“You know what my advice will be,” Finn was saying, eyebrows arched knowingly on his forehead.
“Yeah.” Fiearius sighed. “I know.”
A crooked grin came to Finn’s face. “If there was ever a time to be gutsy … ”
Now, Fiearius laughed. “Kind of bad taste though.”
Finn waved his hand dismissively. “No such thing as bad taste at the end of the worlds.”
“Dov’ha ti’arte,” Fiearius hissed through his teeth. “Can we not throw those kinds of words around please?”
Now, Corra decided, was her moment. She hadn’t even intended to overhear any of this seemingly very personal conversation between the two friends, but when she’d approached the Beacon’s bridge to seek out its captain (co-captain? She still wasn’t sure where things stood at this point on that front) and found Fiearius leaned against the navigator’s chair with Finn in his pilot’s seat, it felt equally wrong to interrupt them as it did to hover awkwardly just outside the door and wait for a pause in discussion.
Out of politeness to the both of them, she forced herself to not even wonder what they were talking about as she entered the bridge finally, taking great care to let her footsteps fall heavy on the metal grating to alert them they were not alone.
“Sorry to butt in,” she greeted, hoping she sounded innocent and oblivious.
Fortunately, when the men looked over at her, neither of them seemed caught or uncomfortable to find her there suddenly. Perhaps the conversation hadn’t been as personal as she’d thought. Or perhaps they just no longer cared. Secrets and gossip seemed petulant and worthless these days.
“There’s a Carthian officer in our airlock that wants to talk to you about the way we’re docked with their dreadnought, Riley,” Corra explained. “Something about siphoning energy out of their something or other? She seemed pretty pissed.”
Maddeningly, Finn shrugged it off. “That was the dream team’s doing, not mine. She’ll have to take it up with them.”
Corra was about to argue, but Fiearius beat her to it. “I’m heading to see Cy right now, I can mention it to him.”
“Great, but that doesn’t really solve the problem of the angry security officer in the airlock,” Corra pointed out, eyeing Finn with a look she hoped said ‘go take care of it’. He just blinked back at her, a portrait of innocence.
“Leave her,” was Fiearius’ flippant advice as he pushed himself from the chair he leaned against and made for the door. “Let her stew for a bit.”
Technically, Corra wasn’t sure Fiearius had any authority to dish out command decisions to her, but given the command was one she was more than happy to comply with, she couldn’t say she cared either.
“Whatever you say, Admiral.” She gave him a half-hearted salute and turned to Finn, but before she could even open her mouth, Fiearius called her name.
She glanced back at him, waiting in the doorway. “Walk with me?”
It was such an odd request from Fiearius that she didn’t even consider rejecting it. With a tiny smile of farewell to Finn, she caught up to the man and fell into step beside him as he strolled down the hall. For the first few steps, they walked in silence and Corra spent that time wondering if she should fill it. Something light, maybe. She wracked her brain for some kind of good news she could provide. Anything. God knew he needed to hear it.
She was about to tell him about something cute Kalli had done recently when he finally spoke.
“How are you doing?”
Okay, so he didn’t want something light after all. “I should be asking you that,” she pointed out, her voice growing quiet.
But Fiearius snorted in disapproval. “Enough people have already asked for you, believe me. I’m tired of answering.”
She nodded in somber understanding. It had barely been twenty four hours since the report had come in. When she read the words that first time, alone in her quarters unable to get to sleep, all the air in her lungs had disappeared, leaving her gasping for breath. She’d read it again and her eyes had filled with water. By the time Finn arrived in her doorway moments or minutes later, she was already spent, unable to do anything but stare at the wall across from her as he crouched at her side and wrapped her in his arms.
“I’m alright,” she said, though even as the words fell from her lips she didn’t know what they meant. She didn’t feel alright. She felt empty. But once the initial shock had passed, once she had finally been able to pry herself out of Finn’s grasp, she knew she had to pull herself together. The Dionysian had been her home at some point. The people on it, her friends. Javier, Richelle, Rhys, even Maya. The loss hit hard.
But there were others hit harder.
“I’m more worried about Alyx,” she muttered, only realizing what she’d said a moment too late. Nobody but Corra knew what had sent the Beacon’s navigator into seclusion after yesterday’s battle. Why she had spoken to no one, eaten nothing and why if you got close enough to her quarters you could hear quiet sobs coming from within. Nobody knew that she wasn’t mourning the Dionysian. She was mourning her mother.
But to her surprise, Fiearius did not seem confused by her revelation. “Shit, yeah.” He grimaced. “How is she?”
Corra regarded him curiously. “Not good, but I’ve been checking in on her,” she mumbled, distracted. “How did you–I thought–“
“Quin told me a few weeks ago,” was Fiearius’ explanation. “Wanted to make sure I knew in case–” He didn’t finish the sentence.
“Right.” Leta had told her that Fiearius and Quin had become close over the past few years. She wondered if Alyx knew. Or if it mattered. Probably not anymore.
The two of them dropped back into silence as they passed through the deserted mess hall. This time, Fiearius didn’t make any effort to amend it. Corra could only imagine what kind of turmoil was going through his head right now. She didn’t want to. They were nearly to Cy and Addy’s quarters. Maybe now was the time to part ways. She should probably go check on her navigator again, bring her some dinner she wouldn’t eat.
Before she could, though, a sudden urge struck her. There was no such thing as bad taste at the end of the worlds, that’s what Finn had said. And suddenly, she had to ask.
“Fiearius.” Corra hadn’t realized she’d frozen in the middle of the hall until she watched him, twenty feet in front of her, turn back and frown. “Why did you buy me from Goddora?”
There was a time, years ago, when she had asked that exact question at least once a day. At every meal, every chance meeting in the hallway, she had asked, again and again and again. And each time, his answer had been flippant or sarcastic or both if he’d even given her one at all. Eventually, she had given up asking.
But if there was ever a time to try again, it was now.
Even now, though, she saw hesitance flash over Fiearius’ face once the surprise had worn off. He looked away and ran his hand through his hair. “Does it matter?”
“Yes,” she answered at once, in a voice more confident than she’d expected. “It does matter.” She took a step towards him. “In every Conduit operation I’ve run, the allies I help, they always ask. How did I get out? Why am I free while they aren’t?”
His eyes flicked back to her. “Corra–“
“And you know what I tell them?” She ignored him. “I tell them a lie. That I snuck out of the complex and stowed away on a ship til I found safe harbor. Do you know why I tell them that?”
He frowned. “Corra.”
“Because if I told them the truth, that Fiearius Solivere, famed admiral and notorious pirate bought me and freed me because he felt like it? They wouldn’t believe me.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t believe it either.”
He looked pained, more uncomfortable than she’d ever seen him, and his voice was snappy when he asked, “Why are you asking me this now?”
“Because honestly, I may not get another chance.” She shrugged. “And if, God forbid, something happens to you, I can’t live with this giant question mark hanging over my head.”
“You’re asking me because you think I’m gonna get killed,” Fiearius clarified, sounding unamused by the notion.
She took another step towards him and her voice became notably more pleading. “I’m asking because I need to know. I don’t understand, Fiear. Why can’t you just tell me?”
Finally, Fiearius locked his eyes on hers and for a flash of a moment, she saw, horribly, guilt. “Maybe because I’m not proud of my answer.”
Corra felt a rush of shock run through her. “W-what?” She had imagined a decade of reasons he might have had, some better than others, but what he was implying? She couldn’t believe it, if he was truly implying– “You wanted to–” She couldn’t even speak the words, but fortunately she didn’t need to.
Realization flashed across Fiearius’ face. “No! No,” he blurt out in a hurry. “No, gods, not–My intentions weren’t noble, but they were never that un-noble.” He shook his head in disgust. “I never, not for a second wanted a slave, you need to know that. Never.”
Well that was a relief, at least. Any other answer, Corra was sure, she was prepared for. “So then–why?”
He sighed and his hand covered his forehead. “You were a peace offering,” he managed, though the discomfort was apparent all over his features. “Goddora wasn’t giving me good work. He didn’t trust me. Thought I was stuck-up, I wasn’t one of them, like I felt superior.” Fiearius gave it a moment of consideration and admitted, “Which wasn’t incorrect. But I needed him to think it was. So I decided to buy one of his allies, to prove to him that I was of his kind, that he could trust me and that he should give me better jobs.” He wasn’t looking at her when he said, “I bought you as a negotiating strategy.”
Though the man in front of her was an image of shame and guilt, Corra could see little reason for it. But one question still remained. “Why me though?”
“You fit the narrative.” He shrugged one shoulder. “You were one of the only allies who’d talked to me while I was there. You were cute and spunky and if I was the kind of creep I wanted Goddora to think of me as, wanting you badly enough to go into debt over it made sense. I needed to show him a weakness.
“Besides,” he added, “I knew whichever poor soul ended up on my ship wasn’t going to have the easiest time of it. You seemed tough, like you could take it. I never thought I was doing you any favors.”
Corra watched as the man shifted nervously beneath her gaze and she couldn’t help it. She chuckled. The nervousness switched immediately to a glare. “Fiear,” she cooed, shaking her head. “You’re ridiculous, you know that?” The glare just deepened. “You really thought I’d be upset about this?”
“You should be.”
“Because you didn’t buy me to make a statement about allies and slavery out of the goodness of your heart?” she countered, raising a skeptical brow. “I never thought that. I would never expect that. Is it a little unsettling that you supported the ally trade in order to get work to make more money for a major ally trader? Sure. But I’m no idiot, Fiear. I know how desperate you were. You did what you had to do to survive. And you gave me my freedom.” She shook her head. “That’s all that matters in the end.”
“If that’s all that matters then why did you need to know so badly?” he pointed out, sounding terribly bitter.
“Because now, when I’m dismantling the ally trade from the inside out and people ask me how I’m free, I can tell them the truth.” She closed the distance between them and smiled up at his tired eyes. “I can tell them that once upon a time, a selfish space pirate needed to keep himself alive and in the process, he changed the Span.”
“That’s a terrible lesson.”
Corra shook her head. “That’s not the lesson. The lesson’s that you can’t wait around for meaning or purpose to show up in a burst of light from the clouds. You’ve gotta take what you’ve got and make your own meaning out of it before it’s too late.” She tilted her head at him. “After this war, you’d think you would know that by now.”
Fiearius snorted a quiet laugh. “You’d think.”
Corra smiled and stepped forward to wrap his arms around his middle. “Thank you for telling me,” she said into his chest as he patted her on the back of her head. “I hope you don’t die.”
“Me too, princess, me too,” he whispered, squeezing her once before breaking the hug and stepping away. He turned to walk away, but stopped a few seconds later and looked back at her. “Hey. Why did you think I bought you?”
Corra tilted her head and him and shrugged. “My favorite theory was that you thought Cyrus needed a friend.”
Fiearius barked a single laugh, shook his head and sauntered off down the hall.
“I never did get to fix that busted RtL unit.”
Cyrus felt Fiearius watching him incredulously. “That’s what you’re worried about right now?” he asked. “Seriously?”
“No.” Cyrus shrugged. “I had it all planned out though. I bought the parts, I had the schematics, it was all prepped. And I never got around to it. Now I never will.”
Fiearius did not seem impressed and Cyrus was hit by a spike of embarrassment.
“I’m not saying this is important or anything,” he tried to explain. “It’s just–weird. That she’s gone.”
That, at least, seemed to resonate with his brother. He let out a sigh and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet on the short table between them in Cyrus and Addy’s Beacon quarters. “Yeah. It is.”
“Some of my best work was in that ship,” Cyrus went on, remembering the messy engine room fondly. He’d engineered all sorts of workarounds and upgrades and assists for the Dionysian that probably would have blown peoples’ minds back at Sonnete. Technology that had never been seen before, that would have bumped a standard cargo ship into the luxury state-of-the-art class at a dealership. Systems that would turn even the most basic freighter into a fast, maneuverable beast, all wasted on keeping an old bucket of bolts afloat.
“Honestly, I’m surprised she still flew at all,” he muttered at last.
“Like a feather til the very end,” Fiearius cooed fondly and Cyrus snorted.
“We must have different definitions of feathers.”
“Alright, hurricane’s down!” It was Addy, her voice hushed as she carefully shut the door to Kalli’s room behind her. “Sorry, she was just not having it tonight.”
“It’s okay, we waited for you,” said Fiearius, waving his hand at the table where the three short glasses filled with dark liquor still stood untouched.
Addy nodded her appreciation and settled onto the couch beside Cyrus without her usual ease and grace. She shifted a couple times, then finally seemed to choose a position that hardly looked comfortable to Cyrus’ eyes and propped her hands in her lap. “So,” she said briskly, looking between the two of them. “How does this work exactly?”
Cyrus blinked back at her. “I don’t know. I’ve never been to one of these.”
“I did once, when my grandmother died, but I was young, I wasn’t really part of it,” Addy admitted sheepishly.
They both turned to Fiearius whose expression was difficult to read. He was either annoyed or amused. Maybe both. “Alright, I guess I’ll start then,” he relented, lifting one of the glasses. When neither Cyrus nor Addy moved, he frowned and nodded towards the other two. In a hurry, they grabbed their own glasses.
“I’kala ne seri e ga,” Fiearius recited in better Ridellian than Cyrus had ever heard him use. Of course he knew these lines well. Cyrus could count the number of people around him that had died on one hand. He had never needed to hold a Ridellian vigil to ask the gods to accept their souls to the stars. Fiearius, however. How many people had he lost over his lifetime? How many times had he made this request? “Hi’at di parani rie ney ri’a dov’ha rej’ia.”
That was one part Cyrus knew. When Fiearius lifted his glass, both he and Addy chimed in response, “Dov’ha rej’ia,” and drank.