“Because you think you’re gonna die soon,” Leta accused, her tone a touch more harsh than she’d intended. “You’re telling me you love me because you think you’re going to die.” She stared at him blankly and he visibly squirmed beneath her gaze.
“Well, yeah, when you say it like that–”
Leta let out a groan and put her hand over her eyes. “Fiearius.”
“Okay, okay, fine, I get it,” he growled under his breath. “Yes, I should have said something earlier. I should have realized earlier. I should have been less of a coward and made less excuses and said something even though there was never a good time, gods Leta, I’ve not told you up to now because frankly, I always think I’m gonna die soon, this isn’t new.
“But you’re right, I should have said something anyway, I should have fixed things and for that matter, I should never have fucked things up between us to begin with. I should have stayed on Vescent with you, I shouldn’t have gotten involved in a war, I should have listened to Aela, I shouldn’t have gone to Satieri, I should and shouldn’t have done a lot of things, and that’s why I’m telling you now, because I can’t add one more thing to that list.”
Finally, the sharpness dropped from his voice as his arms fell back to his side in defeat. “Well. I’m sorry I dumped this on you. I’ll let you be.” He turned from her and headed towards the door. “You should try and get some sleep. I imagine you’ll need it tomorrow.”
Leta couldn’t tell if she was fuming with anger or something else. Now? Really? Selfish was an understatement. And now he was just walking away? He was walking away. She was watching him walk away as she stood there, frozen by indecision. What the hell was she doing?
The door slid open and Fiearius stepped into the hallway, bracing his hand against the frame. Like she was emerging from water, Leta suddenly pulled away from her shock.
By the time he’d half-turned back to her, Leta had abandoned her drink, stepped forward authoritatively, captured the sides of his jaw in both her hands, and pulled his lips down against hers. The kiss was hard, clumsy, full.
For seconds, Fiearius stood still — uncomfortably still — bent at an awkward angle and stunned into place. But finally, he responded to her feverish kiss, orienting himself toward her as though he had all the time in the world to do just this: his hand curved against her face, another at her neck, drawing her closer as she sunk against his arms.
It didn’t matter how long it had been, it didn’t matter how far apart they’d ended up, embracing Fiearius always felt natural. The way they fit together as their mouths attacked one another’s and her hands roamed over his shoulders and down his back was nothing less than synchronized. In a way so unlike anything else she had ever experienced, Leta and Fiearius’ bodies spoke the same language.
When their lips gently parted an inch, Leta found she was short of breath. He drew back, though his hands held her steadfast. Still, there was worry in his eyes until she met his stare and grasped him tighter.
“I love you too,” she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper.
Fiearius’ brows lifted on his forehead in surprise. She felt his hands go still against her shirt. And then he cracked a horribly familiar shit-eating grin and said, “Yeah. I know you do.”
“You — what?!” she snapped, but before she could argue any further, he reclaimed her lips once more, drowning her protests.
In the silence of the hallway, Fiearius expertly eased Leta backward a step so her shoulders were pressed against the doorframe to her room. Meanwhile, his mouth traveled from her lips, down her jawline, to her neck, gently nipping at delicate skin, sending shivers down her spine as her fingers dug into his hair. She felt his hand on her rear, pulling her hips against his and a low moan rose involuntarily from her throat.
As one of his hands moved down, the other moved up, under her shirt, his calloused palms gliding over her side and ribs. She leaned towards his ear and murmured, “Can you stay?”
His voice was muffled against her neck, his breath hot. “Do you want me to?”
It was hard to be annoyed when he was bombarding her with every pleasant sensation he had in his arsenal. Still, she glowered as she said, “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t.”
“Ask me again,” he muttered and proceeded to use his hands to make it more and more difficult to think let alone speak.
But just barely, she managed to whisper between harsh breath and moans, “Stay with me.”
Fiearius didn’t answer with words. Instead, he withdrew his hands from where they were (Leta made a small groan of irritation), put one behind her legs, the other behind her shoulders and in one fell swoop, lifted her into his arms. Leta hurriedly threw her arms around his neck to hang on and laughed raucously as he carried her back into her room.
Hours later, Leta awoke dimly to the strange feeling of someone manipulating her fingers. At first, she recoiled, drawing her hand to her chest and trying to roll over to fall asleep again. She didn’t want to be awake. She hadn’t slept this well in months. She fully intended to enjoy it while it lasted.
But someone took her hand again and unwound her fingers. She didn’t fight this time and allowed them to place something in her palm then close her hand around it, tight. Exhausted as she was, Leta blinked open one eye and tried to focus on the blurry red shape sitting on the edge of her bed.
“What’re you…” she asked Fiearius, her voice fading away with her lack of consciousness.
“Shh,” he muttered, smoothing hair back on her forehead. “Go back to sleep.” Another blink and she realized he was no longer the Fiearius she had fallen asleep with. He wasn’t the careless, passionate, affectionate man who had kept her awake, writhing breathlessly and twisting against him for half the night. Now, he was dressed, armed with a gun at his leg, and there was a solemnity in his eyes as they stared down at her.
“I gotta go,” he whispered, leaning over the bed and kissing her on the temple.
“Why?” she asked,
“I’ve just gotta go,” was his only answer.
“Are you coming back?”
Fiearius smiled. “I hope so.”
Lest she argue further, he leaned in and kissed her lips, hard, but slow and sweet. She shifted towards him, ran her hand down his chest and arched her back against the mattress. But instead of deepening the kiss, he ended it, breaking away and regarding her with a sad smile.
“I love you,” he said. Leta cracked a tired grin.
“So you’ve said.”
“Just makin’ sure you don’t forget.”
“I won’t.” but he had already drawn away and was moving across the room to leave.
There was one brief moment of panic that caused her to call out, “I’ll see you again soon,” before Fiearius disappeared out of the door and Leta’s mind, weak and spent, drifted back into sleep.
The next time she awoke, it was to someone knocking — no, pounding — on her door. First confused, then startled, Leta sat up in her bed, instinctively pulling the sheets around her bare chest. The three thuds sounded again and she looked around to regain her bearings. Fiearius was gone, her clothes were on the floor and — gods, who the hell was making such a racket at this time of morning?
Finally managing to pull on a shirt and pants, Leta stumbled towards the controls and the door slid open. Instantly, she was treated to a barrage of voices arguing in the hallway beyond, Corra’s chief among them.
“You can’t just barge onto my ship and assault my passengers,” she barked at Chief Strategist Arsen who turned his nose up at her.
“As long as you are docked to our dreadnought and, lest you’ve forgotten, siphoning our power supply, the Beacon is subject to any search and seizure deemed necessary to–”
Corra erupted a disgusted exclamation and continued to argue as Leta turned her attention to Admiral Gates, flanked by three other officers. He appeared oblivious to the bickering behind him.
“Good morning, Dr. Adler. May we come in?”
Leta had no doubt Corra would fight all five Carthians on her behalf to ensure she had a choice, but barring fistfights, there was only one possible answer. “Fine.” She stepped aside to allow them entrance. “What’s this about?”
Gates didn’t immediately answer, instead filing into the room and looking around. His silent escorts stuck close behind him. Arsen, apparently finished discussing these matters with the Beacon’s captain, joined him at his side.
Corra herself joined Leta’s. “I’m so sorry, I tried to stop them, but–”
“It’s okay,” Leta assured her and asked again, “What’s this about?”
This time, Gates cleared his throat. “Dr. Adler, do you know the current whereabouts of Admiral Soliveré?”
She hadn’t noticed the pit of discomfort in her stomach until it suddenly grew heavier. “No, I don’t. Why?”
One of the officers tapped something on his tablet. Gates didn’t answer her question and instead stated, “But he was here with you last night.”
Corra bristled. “That’s none of your damn business,” she growled, but Leta held out her hand to her. She wasn’t embarrassed. Though she was curious as to how they knew. Fiearius had often mentioned that Carthis had bugged him with a tracking device when he was recovering from an injury. She had assumed he’d been kidding.
“He was. But he’s not here now.” She gestured around the tiny room, empty aside from the intruders. “He left during the night.”
Gates nodded and the officer tapped another note onto the tablet. “And he made no mention of his destination?”
“None,” Leta answered calmly, staring him down with the same quiet threat he’d been giving her since he walked in the room. “But it’s not unlike Fiearius to disappear for a while. I’m not sure what about it warrants you barging in here and waking me up.”
Gates lifted a brow at her then nodded at Arsen. The strategist seemed a little more pleased than he should have to report, “We have reason to believe that Admiral Soliveré has committed or will very soon commit an act of high treason.”
Leta’s eyes grew wide as her body went very still. “What?”
“This footage was recorded in the C Deck fighter bay early this morning.” Arsen turned the tablet towards her and Leta peered at the screen to watch a tiny image of Fiearius walk across a docking bay, deliver the butt of a gun into a patrolling cadet’s head and board one of the ships. “He wounded three soldiers,” Arsen elaborated. “One is in critical condition.”
“Okay, so he stole a ship,” Leta clarified, regarding them skeptically. “He is a thief, and you did destroy his vessel. I don’t really see why this points to an act of high treason.”
“It’s not,” said Gates calmly. “But the ship is not the only issue and Soliveré is not the only one who has disappeared. Tell me, doctor, have you looked out the window lately?” Her room had no windows. She shook her head. “If you do, I think you’ll find the skies a lot less busy than they were last night.”
“His entire fleet is gone,” Arsen confirmed. Corra’s mouth fell open, a frown on her face that looked to be part shock and part offense. “We’ve lost tracking of Soliveré himself, but our monitoring was able to pick up the trajectory of a number of his flagships. We know where they’re headed.”
Leta’s eyes were glazed over and she was frowning lightly at the floor. She didn’t need Arsen to tell her. She already knew. “Satieri.”
Dorrion E’etan didn’t need to look up from his console to know that he was no longer alone in the quiet comfort of his home atop one of Paradiex’s sweeping residential towers. When he did glance from the screen to the window overlooking the twinkling city beneath a dark night sky, he could see the reflection of the figure standing in the doorway behind him.
“You finally made it,” E’etan said, still not turning around.
“Your security was pleasantly apathetic,” replied Fiearius Soliveré, stepping into the room.
E’etan shrugged. “I’ve never believed much in others dying to protect me. A person should be responsible for their own survival, don’t you think?”
“Can’t say I disagree.”
“So.” E’etan spun around in his chair finally and came to his feet to address his visitor. “It’s my turn then?” Soliveré cocked his head curiously. “You’ve killed all my colleagues. So it’s me now, yes?”
The man seemed to consider the notion for a moment. Then he ignored it. Fiearius strode forward and joined E’etan next to his console. He gazed out the window at the city and said, “Nice place you got here.”
“Thank you,” E’etan responded, masking his uncertainty by crossing his arms behind his back.
“Must not have been easy to get.”
“I was on a waitlist for three years.”
Fiearius made a noise of surprise and regarded him curiously. “Three years? Even you?”
E’etan snorted. “My job comes with less perks than you might imagine.”
Fiearius nodded slowly. “Good to know.”
E’etan narrowed his eyes on the man beside him. “And why is that?”
“Because,” Fiearius answered, casting him a sideways glance. “I’m not here to kill you. I’m here to help you.”