Chapter 50: Eighteen Months

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There couldn’t have been a more perfect day for a wedding.

Well, maybe there could have been. Back on Vescent, one of Leta’s long-term patients had relapsed in her absence. There had apparently been a violent riot on Ellegy, the first in nine months. And someone had been shot to death outside of Paradiex’s city hall.

But those were all things that Leta easily pushed from her mind as she watched Cyrus and Addy Atelier walk down an aisle of their friends and family, hand in hand, smiling so bright they shone. And in that moment, things were perfect. Continue reading

Chapter 49 Bonus: Sixteen Months

Cyrus winced as a speck of oil from the pan burst up and hit him in the cheek. “Godsdamn it…” he muttered under his breath and Fiearius groaned behind him.

“Stand back, lower the flame,” he drolled from where he sat atop the opposite counter. “Also you don’t have to just stand there the whole time watching it. C’mon, genius, use your common sense.”

Cyrus shot him a glare, but did as he was told anyway. The meat in the pan sizzled at the temperature change and the violent spitting of oil slowed to a stop. It was difficult to admit when Fiearius was right, especially when he so often wasn’t. But, Cyrus supposed, if he was going to be right about anything, it might as well be the thing he was teaching him. Continue reading

Chapter 49 Bonus: Thirteen Months

Fiearius stepped out onto the landing, taking a breath of the crisp night air that stung as it filled his lungs. The warm light of the apartment behind him flooded out of the windows and it was tempting to turn back. He didn’t want to leave. Gods, he didn’t want to leave. But he couldn’t impose himself on Cyrus’ family any more than he already had. It was time to go.

Another deep breath and he lifted his hood over his head. As he headed down the stairs, he reached into his jacket pocket and drew out a tiny bundle wrapped in paper. When he reached into his other pocket, however, he found nothing in place of where a lighter should have been.

“Shit.” Continue reading

Chapter 49 Bonus: Eleven Months

“We should get up,” Corra suggested for what was probably the fifth time. And once again, Finn laughed defiantly, rolled towards her and pressed his lips against hers. The feeling of his hands roaming down her bare back had worked every other time to keep her in bed, but this time, guilt and responsibility were starting to settle in.

“I’m serious,” she protested, though her efforts to pull herself out of his embrace were half-hearted at best. “Alyx is gonna be mad…”

“Pfft,” he breathed against her neck before letting his mouth explore the sensitive space just below her ear. “Captain Iwata doesn’t scare me.” Continue reading

Chapter 49 Bonus: Six Months

“You’ve got a call coming through, Dr. Adler!”

“Coming!” Leta called back, shoving the pile of clean linens onto the shelf and spinning around, nearly running into a passing nurse.

“‘Scuse me, Dr. Adler!” he yelped, hurrying out of her way as Leta dodged around him and rejoined the quick flow of the clinic’s hallway only to immediately have a chart in front of her. Continue reading

Chapter 49: Refuge Pt. 3

“Maybe I won’t.”

“You will.”

“It’s not up to you.”

“It’s not,” he agreed. “It’s up to you. And you’re gonna go.” Before she could argue further, he raised his hand and started listing things on his fingers one by one. “It’s your home. You haven’t been back in ages. It needs your help. You can work with your dad. You can work with the rebels. You can fix it. You’re gonna go.”

Leta snorted indignantly. “Last I was there, the rebellion hated me.”

“That was before you betrayed Carthis and freed them all,” he pointed out with a dull stare. “You’re gonna go. It’s Vescent we’re talking about. Why wouldn’t you?”

The stress and indecision finally got to her. Frustrated, Leta slammed her palm on the table and stood up so fast that the chair she sat in was tossed backwards against the wall. “You know why I wouldn’t,” she snapped. “You know.”

His confidence faltered a little towards apology. “Leta–”

“You know or are we just pretending that didn’t happen?” she demanded. “Just back to normal, dancing around the fucking obvious because gods forbid we’re honest about something. Is that it? Do you want me to leave?”

“What–no!” He too stood up now and reached out to seize her hands. “No, of course I don’t. I want you to stay, of course I want you to stay, but I also want you to do what you need to do. And for fuck’s sake, I know you, you can’t just sit here while Vescent needs your help. You can’t. Not for me, not for anybody. You have to go back and to hell if I’m going to try to stop you.”

“Then what about us?” she wanted to know, taking her hands from his and crossing her arms over her chest. “I go to Vescent, you stay on Satieri, what happens to us?”

His delayed answer was hardly reassuring. Finally, he grimaced and muttered, “Well…we have, what, twelve hours?”

“Fiearius–”

“Okay, okay, I don’t know,” he admitted, throwing his hands up. “I don’t know what happens to us, but — we’ll figure it out.”

“Figure it out?” she repeated incredulously. “That’s all you’ve got? Figure it out? Fall’s End and Paradiex are on completely opposite time maps. You can barely keep in contact with your own fleet, let alone friends or anything else. Have you ever maintained a relationship without the physical part of it? Can you handle that? Do you have any idea how hard long distance it? I–”

“Leta,” he interrupted suddenly, reaching out to drop his hands on her shoulders.

“No, Fiearius, this isn’t just some simple thing you can write off as–”

“Leta,” he said again, gripping her tighter. She frowned at him, but her anger was hard to maintain as he gently massaged his thumbs against her collarbone, just as he fucking knew she liked it.

“Look.” He spoke plainly and calmly. “You’re going to Vescent tomorrow. Come on, we knew this was gonna happen at some point, didn’t we? Vescent was always your goal just as Satieri was mine. And you’ve gotta see it through. You have to. You know that, I know that. So you’re going. And sure, that’ll put a strain on what we’ve got and that sucks because fuck, we finally got somewhere and, yeah. That really sucks. But–” He shook his head. “You have to go. So..we’ll just have to figure it out.”

Leta looked down at her feet as she let him rub away the anxiety in her shoulders. “And what if we can’t…?”

“Then we can’t,” he admitted. “Maybe it won’t work. Maybe I’ll fuck it up again. Maybe you’ll fuck it up, that’d be a nice twist, huh?” He squeezed her shoulder and she couldn’t stop herself from chuckling. “But I have a feeling,” he went on, sliding one hand under her chin to lift her face to his. “Even if we do go out in flames or out in a pathetic puff of smoke…it won’t matter in the long run. We’ll find our way back. We always do…”

Leta wasn’t entirely appeased. She didn’t feel nearly as sure of this plan as Fiearius sounded. And she wasn’t convinced even he was. He was just saying words, providing comfort because it was what he felt he should do, keeping up the confident facade that she saw cracking at the edges, he didn’t mean it.

But she didn’t argue either when he tilted her chin upwards and drew her lips against his, soft and warm and inviting. For just that moment, her worries left her. She felt he was right. They had all the time they could ever want. Nothing could change that. No span of space could truly tear them apart. For that moment, she believed. They could figure it out.

When he drew back, he was smirking. “So. Twelve hours?”

Leta’s eyes were still shut, but she opened one and pursed her lips. “We could probably push it to thirteen.”

A grin spread over his face. “That’s what I like to hear.” But instead of deepening the kiss, instead of pulling her towards the cot and sliding his hands under her shirt and down her back as she’d expected, he drew away and started rustling through a sack of his meager belongings.

“What are you doing?”

He turned back to her, brandishing a rather alarmingly large pair of wire cutters. His smile was impish when he said, “Did I tell you I know how to get into the closed districts of the city? This may be our last chance. Want a tour?”

—————————

The tour went on through the night and into the early morning. True to his word, Fiearius had no trouble traversing even Paradiex’s strictly locked down regions, though it had more to do with reluctant guards than any feat of his own.

“Of course they’re not going to stop us,” he had boasted proudly as he helped her climb over a hastily erected fence blocking off the city’s silent Entertainment District while the handful of volunteer guards watched from nearby. “We saved the fuckin’ planet, a blind eye is the least they owe us.”

Or perhaps they figured it was their right to put themselves in danger if they so chose, Leta thought but didn’t bother correcting him. Nonetheless, nobody made even the remotest attempt to get in their way as they spent the night exploring deserted casinos, dancing in silent clubs, ‘borrowing’ liquor from empty bars and reliving Fiearius’ past through one outlandish story after the next. It was only after they’d watched the Satieran sun rise over the crippled skyline from atop a huge sign high above the street, that, exhausted and still a little tipsy, they hobbled back to the camp and spent some time exploring each other instead.

Leta was asleep when there was a loud knock on Fiearius’ door and she barely stirred to consciousness when he rolled out of bed and engaged in a hushed shouting match with whoever had disturbed him. The word Carthis came up twice, then she’d felt a warm kiss press against her lips followed by silence. She’d woken up an hour later to find herself alone.

So thirteen hours with Fiearius hadn’t quite been right, but she didn’t mind. It gave her the time to bid a tearful goodbye to Cyrus and Addy, to say farewell to Corra who, looking far more positive than she’d seen her in — gods, years — assured her it was more like a ‘seeya later’, to check in with Daelen and her patients and finally to return to her metal tube to pack what little possessions had made it this far.

It didn’t take long. One bag was able to hold everything. She lingered for a moment on an empty liquor bottle from Tarin, a small grotesque clay sculpture of — was it a bear? A deer? — and an ornate fitted mask she’d nearly forgotten she had, but soon enough she swung the bag onto her back and headed out of the shelter for the last time.

Leta had to consciously fight off the heaviness in her chest as she sought out Fiearius to say goodbye. It wasn’t goodbye, she kept telling herself and continuously failed to believe it. It wasn’t goodbye, it wasn’t an end, just a pause. Another pause in their long history of pauses…What would one more be, in the grand scheme of things, right? Just a little pause…

“Am I supposed to feel bad about that?”

As always, Fiearius was easy to locate.

“I don’t give a shit what happens to that guy,” he was telling La’aren and another member of the new Council whose name Leta constantly forgot. The three of them were huddled around the table of Varris’ shelter and makeshift meeting room and none of them appeared to notice when Leta shuffled into the back.

“So you don’t care if we do it then?” Varris confirmed, a glint of hope lighting her eyes.

“No,” Fiearius growled, “I don’t care what happens to him, but I don’t want him here.”

The other member of the Council put his head in his hand. “Soliveré, Gates is a popular figure in Carthis. No one wants to see him executed, but Carthian law is strict, he’s a traitor, there’s nothing they can do. But! If we offer him asylum, problem solved.”

“It could be an important step towards peace,” Varris went on. “Peace we desperately need. The gods know we can’t take another war right now.” She threw her hand out towards the city, decimated by the last one. When Fiearius didn’t seem to be convinced, she added, “Need I remind you it’s your fault he’s a traitor?”

“It’s his fault,” Fiearius shot back without skipping a beat. “For being shit.”

“Compelling argument…” the other Councillor muttered.

Though there was certainly a part of Leta that wanted to butt into this conversation, to say her own piece, for once she was too preoccupied. Her opinion was buried beneath the bundle of nerves that knew what she had to do and what she didn’t want to do. But she just had to get it over and done with.

“Fiear–” she spoke up, cutting him off from whatever snippy comment was already waiting on his tongue. When he glanced back at her, she took a deep breath and got out with it. “I’m leaving now.”

He stared at her for a moment as though he didn’t even understand what she was talking about. And then he said, “Okay,” and turned back to the table to continue ranting at Varris.

Leta waited a beat for surely that hadn’t just happened. He was just getting the last word out and then he’d turn back to her and he’d escort her to her father’s ship and they’d say goodbye and she wouldn’t get upset because it wasn’t really goodbye, it was just a pause, a little pause, but —

But Fiearius didn’t turn back to her. He didn’t stop ranting. The exchange around the table continued as though Leta hadn’t ever interrupted it at all. She didn’t even hear what they said, too absorbed by what was going on. Or wasn’t going on, rather.

After a solid minute of waiting, it hit her. It made sense, didn’t it? Fiearius was never very good with these kinds of things, was he? They’d had a wonderful night together, he’d kissed her when he left this morning, what more could she ask for, really? She may have been willing to brave the hard farewell, but he clearly wasn’t and it was probably selfish of her to force him, wasn’t it?

“Alright, see ya around,” she muttered mainly to herself as she looked away from the table and headed out of the shelter, trying not to let it get to her. But it did. It really got to her.

She wasn’t being selfish to want to get a proper goodbye from the man who supposedly loved her. He was being selfish by not giving it. What, it hurt him too much to accept it? As if it didn’t hurt her as well? He was the one who told her to go! He was the one who’d been so sure yesterday that it was fine, that distance couldn’t end them, that this was nothing. And now he wouldn’t even look her in the eye before she left?

Well, fuck him.

In a flash, Leta turned from sad to angry as she stalked through the camp towards the docks. Fuck him. She was so tired of this stupid dance. How long had they been doing this? One moment hot, the next colder than ice, what was even the point anymore? Hell, maybe this was his plan. Make her so furious that she wouldn’t even miss him when she was gone. So far, it was working.

“There you are,” Tritius greeted her as she approached his ship, a slim shiny black thing with the librera still emblazened upon its bow. “We were supposed to head out two hours ago. Are you ready yet?”

“Yeah, let’s go,” she snapped. Though she’d dreaded it this morning, now, in her frustration, she couldn’t wait to get off this damned planet and as far away from here as possible.

“Is that all you have?” her dad was asking her, taking the bag from her shoulder. “Do you need–”

“This is it, let’s go,” she said again, impatient. “Let’s just get home. I don’t want to–”

“Hey!”

Leta spun back to glare at the figure racing across the docks towards her. Oh, now he wanted her attention? Really?

“What?” she yelled back as he closed the gap between them, seemingly running as fast as his legs could carry him. Only feet in front of her, he slowed to a stop, doubling over, supporting his hands on his knees and heaving in shallow breaths.

Between the gasps, he managed, “Did you–really think–you could leave–without–saying goodbye?” He peered up at her from beneath a sweaty brow and windswept messy red hair.

Leta gaped at him. What the hell was wrong with this man? “I did say goodbye,” she snapped, indignantly, crossing her arms over her chest. “I came to say goodbye and you just fucking ignored me so to hell with you coming here and asking that! I’ve said my goodbye, so you can just–”

Before she could tell him just what he could do, Fiearius rolled his eyes, stood up straight, seized the sides of her face and pulled her lips against his. Her protests lasted just a moment, her palm slapping his chest in frustration, and then they were blown away on the wind as she sunk into the embrace and gave in.

The kiss was a shock to her system, a lightning bolt down her spine. Then it settled into something that was slow, warm, relaxed.  Fiearius took his time roaming his lips against hers, then slowly, achingly, easing away. She didn’t open her eyes until she heard him mutter, “That wasn’t a goodbye.”

She pressed her hand against him again in a last ditch showing of defiance and then leaned her forehead against his chest. “You’re an ass,” she sighed.

She felt the warmth of his breath as he laughed against her hair.

“You’re in love with an ass. Which is worse?”

She lifted her head to tell him to ‘shh’ when she accidentally locked eyes with someone whose very face, stern and skeptical and full of judgment, served as an instant mood killer. Without even thinking about it, she dropped her hands to her sides, her face flushing red.

Fiearius regarded her curiously and then followed her line of sight. “Oh,” was his only comment when he realized the issue. Then he smiled cheerfully. “Good to see you again, Mr. Adler.”

“Soliveré,” was Tritius’ only response. “Leta. We’re already behind schedule.”

“Right,” she mumbled and, fighting her instincts to show no emotion in front of her father, took Fiearius’ hand. “Please take care of yourself, okay? Don’t do anything stupid.”

Fiearius barked a single laugh. “Why would I–”

“And watch over Cy too, don’t let him turn back into the cocky jerk he used to be, his words, not mine.”

“Okay, but –”

“And if you get injured or if something crops up, please go to a doctor, I know you hate them, but please.”

“Leta–”

This time, she lifted herself up and placed a quick kiss upon his mouth. “I’ll miss you,” she whispered, clamping her eyes shut.

She felt his fingers gently tuck a stray hair behind her ear. “I’ll miss you too.”

Taking a deep breath, she turned around towards the ship, not opening her eyes until she was sure he was safely out of sight. If she saw him again now, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to walk up that ramp with her father. Her feet would refuse to carry her. It was only when she reached the top that she dared to look back at the man still standing on the docks below and it took all of her determination not to run back to his arms.

“Are you sure you can’t come with me?” she asked one last time, already knowing that he would shake his head.

“I can’t.”

“But we’ll see each other again soon, right?”

Fiearius smiled, but it was a sad smile. It gave her no comfort, not even when he called, “I love you, Leta.”
“I love you too,” she whispered, feeling hopelessness suddenly flood around her in all directions as her father lifted the ramp and she watched through watery eyes as Fiearius Soliveré disappeared from view.

Chapter 49: Refuge Pt. 2

The future had never seemed less certain. With the Beacon gone, the Spirit destroyed, the Transmission out of her grasp, all the paths that had been open to her were closed. She’d been indecisive before and now she was just — lost.

She was glaring down at her feet when she felt a warm hand slide over hers. “Hey. Talk to me.” She looked up to find Finn watching her closely. “What’s goin on, huh?”

A sigh passed her lips. “I don’t know,” she said again. “I just–don’t know what comes after this I guess.” She looked around at the ships in the docks and then peered out at the refugee camp she was headed back to, full of people who belonged here, whose homes were here, who were trying their damndest to fix it. “No offense to Satieri, but I don’t really want to stay here. I’m of no use to the reparations. I’m just sitting here using resources not even meant for me. There’s no point to my being here.”

“Where do you wanna go then?” Finn asked.

“I have no idea,” Corra admitted. “Nor do I have the ability to get there, even if I did. I suppose I want to go back to helping the Conduit. That was the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done and — god, now’s the time.” She shrugged a shoulder towards the mess that was once the greatest city in the Span. “In the aftermath of a war? Ellegy had our most uncrackable cases. I should be taking advantage of this before they get back on their feet, before the trade gets back under way, I should –”

“Hey.”

Corra stopped and looked up at Finn who was tilting his head at her curiously. “What?”

He stuck out his bottom lip in a pout and crossed his arms over his chest in disapproval. “You didn’t ask what I want.”

Despite the accusation of rudeness, Corra couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright,” she chuckled. “What do you want?”

His joking childish frown turned into a bit of an impish smirk. “I wanna go where you go.”

She chuckled again. “Riley–”

But the smirk fell away and suddenly he was watching her far more intensely than she was comfortable with. His grip on her hand tightened. “I’m serious,” he told her, his voice low. “If working with the Conduit was the most fulfilling for you then, great, you should be doing that. But — being around you, being on your team? That was the most fulfilling for me so — if you’re gonna go running off to save all the allies and change the Span, don’t just disappear again. Take me with you.”

Corra opened her mouth to respond, but no words came out. She didn’t quite know how to respond. She just stared back up at him, at that stupidly ridiculously boyishly handsome face of his as it stared back down at her, her cheeks no doubt turning a bright shade of pink.

Finally, she got a hold of herself. She swallowed the lump in her throat and forced an awkward laugh. “Doesn’t matter either way when we don’t have a ship.”

Thank God, the intense stare ended as Finn stood up straight and glanced back at the Beacon, still overflowing with Society agents. He let out a long ‘hmmm’ and then said, “Y’know. We may have stolen the Beacon from the Society. It is rightfully theirs. I suppose. But–” He jutted his thumb over his shoulder. “The Transmitter? Or — what, Ark Assist, whatever the fuck it is? And the Caelum Lex?” He frowned at her knowingly. “They’re ours.”

Corra considered it for a moment. “You’re right,” she decided at last. “We found those things fair and square, we hooked them up, we put all the work into it.”

“They’re ours,” Finn said again, more sternly this time and Corra found herself agreeing.

The two of them stood on the edge of the docks, hand in hand, the wheels in their heads turning in unison.

“Think they found the secret starboard airlock hatch and locked it yet?” Finn asked after a moment.

A grin spread across Corra’s face as she tightened her grip around his fingers and started to head back towards the Beacon, as casually as she could manage.

“I doubt it.”

——————-

“Look, change the name all you want, it doesn’t need rebranding, it needs reorganizing.”

“I agree with you.”

“Great, then why are you still here?”

It wasn’t difficult to locate Fiearius in the camp, Leta had found. He was always where the most noise was. Not simply from the construction that he tended to gravitate towards, inserting himself into any effort that involved primarily pushing, pulling, lifting or breaking things, but also from the amount of yelling at people he did while performing the aforementioned tasks.

Today, Leta discovered as she rounded the corner of a shelter to where a group of people were building a more permanent one, at Varris La’aren, former leader of the Satieran rebellion and current unofficial head of Satieran reparation efforts.

Her hands were on her hips and her tone was impatient as she said, “Because you know what you’re talking about. You understand the Society and how it functions better than anyone. If we’re going to tear it apart and rebuild it from the ground up–”

“No,” Fiearius cut her off, turning away from where he was drilling a hole in a wall to point at her with his index finger. “No, you shouldn’t tear it apart. It’s fine set up as it is, you just need to redirect it.”

His argument seemed only to help hers. “See?” She spread her hands in front of her. “You know what you’re talking about. We need your help. We need you on the Council.”

“No,” he said shortly, going back to his work. “Absolutely not. There are plenty of other people who get the Society just fine. Ask them.”

“But you’re the Verdant.”

He shot her a glare. “I’m not. I gave it to you.”

Varris did not seem impressed. “You and I both know owning that chip means nothing. You’re more than just a data center, you’re a symbol.”

“Well I don’t want to be.”

“Lil late for that,” she pointed out. “You’re a symbol and people trust you and we need you involved for people to trust us. If we’re going to successfully restructure the Society, elect a new government, fix everything that is broken, we need you on our side.”

“Okay, I’m on your side, congratulations, you have my full support to carry on as you see fit, go forth with my blessing,”

Varris’ fingers massaged her temple. “We need you involved.”

Fiearius gave her a second of consideration and then, “I’m gonna tell you this one last time, okay?” He grinned. “I’m retired.”

“Admiral, please–”

He dropped the drill on the ground and threw his hands in the air. “Not an admiral! You see any ships? No? Not an admiral. Not a Verdant. Damn well not a fucking politician. Retired!”

“Soliveré!”

“Retired!” he said again, stepping away from her towards Leta who hadn’t even realized he’d noticed her hovering off to the side, watching this exchange with growing interest. Varris, apparently, now did.

“Dr. Adler, can you please talk some sense into him?” she begged and Leta let out a nervous chuckle.

“Stop wasting your time, La’aren!” Fiearius continued to taunt back at her as he spun around once he reached Leta and kept walking, gesturing she follow. “Quit bothering me and get some real work done, maybe you’ll actually make some progress, huh?”

Leta watched Varris let out a hefty groan, put her head in her hand and then stalk away in a huff, before she turned to Fiearius and hurried after him as he continued to stalk through the camp, apparently abandoning the construction site he’d been helping with. No one argued. No one ever argued.

Fiearius moved around the camp like a ghost, coming and going as he pleased as the people around him either pretended not to notice him at all, out of respect, or stared wide-eyed like they couldn’t believe the apparition before them. For his part, he seemed not to notice the whispers and gasps that followed him wherever he went. ‘Seemed’ being the operative word, Leta assumed.

“Can you believe that woman?” he asked incredulously when she caught up. “Still on this, really.”

“She’s doing her best,” Leta countered.

“Her best is ‘refusing to take no for an answer’?” Fiearius snorted.

“Probably what she thinks,” Leta admitted. “It’s not easy, rebuilding a whole system.”

“I never said it was. Hell, why do you think I want nothing to do with it?” He shuddered at the thought.

“It does seem odd that you went through all of — everything — only to not care at the very end, to not see it through,” Leta remarked, more curious than accusatory.

“I do care,”he argued at once. “Of course I care. But I’ve talked to Varris. At length. I’ve talked to the Council she’s putting together. I’ve given them my thoughts and they’ve given me theirs and guess what. They’re the same. And, unlike me, they’re actually patient enough to deal with the political bullshit to make it happen. I wasn’t kidding. She has my full support and I trust her to get it done. I’m seeing it through by getting the fuck out of the way.”

Leta could think of no response so she just made a small, “Hm” and left it at that. It was a moment before she realized he was staring down at her, suspicion written all over his expression. “Let me guess. You’re gonna try and convince me to do it, aren’t you? To help her?”

Leta creased her brow in consideration, glancing at Fiearius then over her shoulder at where Varris had disappeared. Finally, she decided, “Nope,” which seemed to shock him. “You’re right, I think. And even so, you’ve done enough. If you want to take a break, you deserve a break.”

She followed him into the shelter he’d claimed as his own. It had to be one of the oldest in the whole camp, small, beat up and falling apart. But it was private as opposed to the other shared units, which she thought summarized his reasoning. No one had argued that either. She pitied anyone who had to be roommates with Fiearius Soliveré.

“Never would have expected that answer from you, but thanks,” he muttered, clearly a little taken aback by her decision as he fell backwards onto the cot he’d secured for himself. “I appreciate the vote of support.”

Leta just shrugged and leaned against the opposing wall. “You’d make a horrible politician anyway.”

The surprise wiped away in an instant and he laughed his barking laugh. “Exactly! Thank you for seeing logic where some people won’t.”

“I can picture the headlines now,” she mused, waving her hand in the air to paint the scene before her eyes. “Satieran legislature erupts into fistfight after someone insults Councillor Soliveré’s bill. Is democracy dead?”

He laughed again and reached under the cot to pull out, to Leta’s surprise — “Beer?”

“Fiear,” she scolded at once.

He gave his best face of innocence. “What?”

“Did you buy those off the looters? We’re not supposed to support them, you give them money, they’re just gonna loot more and–”

“I didn’t buy them,” he cut her off, pulling out two beers regardless and standing up to hand her one. “They gave them to me.” He could likely read the skepticism on her face because he clarified, “Okay, fine, I made them give them to me.” He pushed the bottle towards her hand. “But I didn’t buy them.”

She rolled her eyes, but the idea of even a lukewarm beer right now was more appealing than she could resist. She took the bottle from his hand and picked up the tablet he’d left on the table in the center of the tiny room to skim through the day’s news she might have missed. There were updates coming in every minute, it was hard not to let them pass by. Carthis had retreated into their own system, forced back by a fully united Society fleet, but there was still tumult on Ellegy from the remaining troops, Ascendia trying to reorganize, trouble on Vescent…

But the moment she reached the Exymerian System News Core, she was hit not with updates from around the Span, but her own image. There she was, standing on the edge of the Nautilus’ crash site, torn and battered and bruised and, worst of all, held tight in the embrace of Admiral Soliveré. One of his hands cradled her head, the other held the small of her back while both of her arms clung to his waist and her head was buried against his chest. It was not the embrace of colleagues after a victory. It was not even the embrace of friends. It was perhaps the most intimate photo Leta had ever seen of herself and thanks to the News Core, everyone had seen it.

Still, embarrassing as it was, she couldn’t help but admire it a moment longer. She looked so content, standing there in his arms, and he in hers. It looked right. And it was, wasn’t it?

Things had been a little fuzzy regarding anything resembling ‘relationships’ this past week. They had been busy, both of them, incredibly busy. There wasn’t time or brainspace to sit down and hash out titles and officialities and even if there was, Leta wasn’t sure she’d bring it up. Even now, as she glanced over at Fiearius leaning against the doorframe and looking out into the fading light of the camp, she wasn’t sure how to breach the topic.

It would have been challenging enough under normal circumstances, but this week, Fiearius hardly seemed like himself at all. Sure, he made jokes and teased her and maintained a pretty convincing illusion of good spirits, but she knew him better than that. She saw past the stubborn facade to the quieter moments when he looked positively lost in his own head. And at this point, who could blame him?

So now had not been the time to ask for definitions. All Leta knew was that one night, before they’d come to Satieri, played in her head over and over. Three words that were nothing, really, but felt like so very much. For now, she had been content to let things play out as they were. Leta had her own shelter, one she shared with Corra and Alyx, nearby, though in the week since the battle, she’d only spent one night in it and only because Fiearius had been deep in discussion with Varris La’aren and the new Council til morning. She kept finding herself here, with him, and he was always more than happy to welcome her.

But looking at that picture on the screen, she had to wonder. Did that really mean anything?

“Hey.” Fiearius’ voice startled her out of her thoughts and she quickly shut off the tablet before he could see the image on it. “What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing,” she lied easily, but he didn’t buy it even for a moment.

“Okay.” He sat down at the table across from her. “What’s on your mind?” he asked again.

Leta met his stare and realized she couldn’t keep it from him forever. He had to find out eventually. And soon.

“My dad’s here.”

Fiearius tilted his head at her, genuine surprise rising in his features. He didn’t ask, but she explained anyway, “He was on Vescent until recently. He was there when the Society, when you–we–reclaimed it from Carthis. He’s gathered up what’s left of the Vescentian government and they’re making an effort to rebuild in the chaos. He says it’s not going so great. It’s rough there. Things are…shaky.”

Fiearius was nodding as she spoke, but all he said was, “I’ve heard that.”

So she kept stumbling onward. “The rebels there don’t want to work with him because they don’t trust he won’t just…turn things back to the way they used to be. But they’ve been having talks and he thinks there’s hope, they just need some more convincing. He wants them to feel like they have friends amongst his group, but his group doesn’t want to let any of the rebels in. They say they’re too radical, violent — it’s just delicate.”

He was still nodding. “Sure, absolutely.”

“But he has hope,” she went on. “He thinks they can reach an agreement. He thinks with the right setup, they can get along and make the progress they need to make to get things on track. With the right mediator maybe.”

She didn’t dare look at his face. She didn’t even want to say what she knew she had to say. There was a part of her that just wanted to bury the conversation she’d had with Tritius Adler earlier today and just keep living her life here oblivious to what was going on on Vescent far far away. But there was another part of her that wanted to do the opposite. And Fiearius must have known it.

“So when are you leaving?”

The question startled her more than it should have. She glanced up at him to find his expression entirely unreadable. “I didn’t say I was leaving,” she pointed out.

“But you are, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You are.”

Looking down again, she ran her hand through her hair. “I haven’t decided yet.”

Horribly, he laughed. “Yeah you have. So when is it?”

“My dad’s ship leaves tomorrow morning.”

Fiearius grimaced and sucked in air through his teeth. “Damn, that’s quick. Not a hell of a lot of time to say goodbye.”

“I’m not even sure I’m going yet.”

Again, he laughed. It was beginning to make her angry. “Yes you are.”