Finally, Gates turned to him. “It’s good to have you on our side, captain.”
Fiearius glanced over at him. Gates was a strange character, one he had yet to fully figure out. He seemed to transcend Fiearius’ natural distrust of Carthians, but he wasn’t so transcendant that Fiearius would say he trusted him. The jury, as it were, was still decidedly out. But he was certain of one thing.
He smirked at the man and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s good to have a side to be on.”
“Is it always this fuckin’ cold here?” Fiearius grunted, rubbing his palms together as he trotted down the stairs toward the water. Leta laughed.
“It’s spring. This is actually unseasonably warm.”
Leta guessed it did not feel particularly warm to Fiearius. A salty breeze rose as they walked the docks toward the Dionysian. Purple clouds swirled overhead, and there was a hint of thunder in the air. Forks of lightning lanced across the sky.
Slowing to a halt, Leta suddenly felt an odd pang: she really was home again.
Fiearius must have noticed the look on her face. “You alright?”
“It’s just strange. Being here.” She looked back at the city, much dimmer than she remembered. Power was still out in some areas. A few buildings that had once dominated the skyline hadn’t survived the battle. It was Fall’s End, but —
“Part of me feels like I never even left at all. And the other part has never felt so out of place in my life.”
He moved to join her at her side. “The woe of the well-traveled I suppose,” he muttered thoughtfully, shoving his hands into his coat pockets.
Suddenly, as she gazed over the dark churning water, she was struck with a memory. “Did you know this is where we first met?”
“What, Vescent?” He eyed her suspiciously. “Yeah, pretty sure I was aware of that.”
“But here, specifically.” She took a few steps further into the dock. “Right here. This is where the Dionysian was. Dock C.”
Fiearius followed her, his brow drawn together in astonishment. “How the hell do you remember that?”
Because she’d never forget it, she thought at once. She remembered that day in vivid, colorful detail: she’d agreed to follow a panic-stricken Cyrus to this very spot to help his injured brother. On the Dionysian’s ramp stood a towering figure, his handsome face dark and twisted in pain as he’d yelled over the sound of the rushing waves. It was her first image of Fiearius. I should’ve known, Leta thought absently, that you would be trouble.
Aloud, all she said was, “It was only a year ago.”
“Just a year? Feels much longer, you’re fucking exhausting.”
Leta just shook her head, ignoring him.
“I wonder if it would have gone differently,” Leta felt herself mumble. “On Vescent. If I’d been here the whole time, I mean. If I could have helped the riots, or actually done something, or … ”
“Hey.” Fiearius’ voice was sharp, and his eyes burned on her face. “You did do something. We wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for you.”
Leta felt herself nod, but it was an empty sentiment. Since she’d killed Morgan, it felt like the Carthians had talked of little else. Their praise made her uneasy, almost nauseous; little did they know, there was nothing heroic about how she’d killed him. She’d been backed into a corner like an injured bleeding animal, fighting for her own life and no one else’s, and she’d barely slipped away. But the Carthians acted like she’d assassinated the man for Vescent, and that Delia had died honorably …
“Speaking of your valiant efforts,” Fiearius said suddenly. “I almost forgot. Gates asked me to give you this.”
He slid his hand into his coat pocket and withdrew something. It was a small white-gold pin, shining even in the dim light, shaped like the Carthian ignisia. In cursive it read:
Dr. Leta Ella Adler
Awarded for Special Services to the Carthian Military
Special services — for killing a Councillor, no doubt. Leta’s stomach clenched. Like she needed another reminder of that horrible day.
“He wanted to have the whole ceremony for you,” Fiearius went on. “I told him it wasn’t your style. So here.”
But Leta shook her head, eyebrows raised. “I don’t want it. I definitely don’t want it. Just drop it in the water for me, will you?”
Fiearius regarded her with amusement. Then, to her surprise, he closed his fist and slipped the pin back into his pocket for safe-keeping.
A beat of expectation passed between them, and Leta realized this was it; there was no reason to linger any longer. This was the goodbye.
“So,” he said, more quietly. “You’re really staying here then.”
“I have to,” Leta said, finding it rather difficult to look him in the eye. She stared at his collarbone instead. “You’d stay too, if your home was in shambles.”
Hours earlier, Gates had asked her to stay and help rebuild Vescent, and how could she refuse? If she stayed on the Dionysian, it would be purely for selfish reasons, purely because that was where Fiearius was and there was no reason to pretend differently. Pushing that thought aside, Leta said quickly, “But what about you? Where will you be off to after your ship’s good as new?”
“Not too sure yet. I’ll let all those fancy Carthian strategists figure that out for the most part. But at some point I’m probably gonna have to hunt down Dez and Varisian. If she’s even still alive…”
Fiearius had told Leta what had happened on that rooftop after she’d left. The fight, the rescue, the defeat. And then he’d left Ophelia with Dez who had promised to deliver her to the Dionysian. Unsurprisingly, Leta had thought, neither of them ever made it to the ship.
“Where do you think they went?”
“Gods, not a clue.” Fiearius dug a hand into his hair and shook his head. “I stopped understanding that man’s motivations a decade ago. But I don’t like this ‘could show up anytime without notice’ situation we’ve got going on right now.”
“At least you’ve got a nice big Carthian posse looking out for you now,” she pointed out with a bit of a smile. She knew better than anyone how Fiearius felt about that.
“They tried to assign me a bodyguard,” he groaned. “Can you believe that? Me? With a bodyguard. I get security, sure, but these people take it way too far.”
“I’ve heard they’re going to start enforcing a more strict lockdown here after that Society ship got through last week,” Leta muttered thoughtfully. “No incoming or outgoing ships whatsoever starting next month. Even Carthian.” After a pause, she muttered, “The Dionysian won’t be coming back for a while.”
She could feel Fiearius watching her intently. After a moment, he asked, “You sure you don’t want to come?”
Internally, Leta knew it was not too late. She could have left her home behind again, climbed aboard the Dionysian and just let the Carthians rebuild Vescent without her.
In a lighter voice than she felt, Leta said, “I couldn’t. We already got your new physician all settled in. Don’t want to stop on any toes.”
Fiearius grunted in disgust. “A doctor and a Carthian. The two things I hate most.”
They exchanged mute smirks. Leta felt hers ease slowly from her face as she wondered how long they could do this, how long could they possibly extend this goodbye? Already, she could hear the Dionysian’s crew moving through the cargo bay, prepping the ramp, readying for departure …
Fiearius must have heard it, too. In hastened silence they regarded one another. Then, as if a silent, sad decision had been agreed upon, Fiearius drew closer, leaning in; Leta stepped toward him and lifted her heels; their lips brushed with some trepidation, before they melted into a familiar rhythm. It was a slow burn of a kiss, as if they had all the time in the world to stand together on the dock. His hand gently grasped the side of her face and Leta barely realized her fingers were clasping the edge of his jacket to keep him close.
Slowly, reluctantly, they slowed and parted lips, even as they held onto one another. Leta could feel his lips drag away from hers as she exhaled, eyes closed.
Finally, Fiearius eased away from their embrace, his expression dark and unreadable.
“Take care of yourself, alright?” he muttered, sliding his hand out from hers as he turned away. It made her chest ache to watch, but Leta did not blink as he walked up the ramp, glanced over his shoulder and went out of sight.
For several minutes more Leta stood alone on the dock, listening to the rolling waves and watching as the Dionysian rumbled awake and then slowly lifted from the water, disappearing into the cloudy sky.
END OF PART 2