Ah, so that’s why. Fiearius tried not to internally gloat to himself and instead found the woman in question. “Oh, her. That. Is Teah.” He couldn’t stop himself from pausing for dramatic effect, taking in every moment of Leta’s anticipation. “She’s my cousin,” he explained at last. “Last time I saw her, I poured gravy in her hair. Twenty years ago. So…y’know. We had to figure that out a bit.”
Leta snorted a laugh. “This must be a fun day for you.”
He grimaced. “It’s interesting, that’s for sure.” As if to punctuate the point, at that very moment, he noticed one of his uncles staring at him as he explained something to Addy’s grandmother. He couldn’t hear what the man was saying, but he saw his father’s name mentioned twice. Turning back to Leta, he gestured towards the darkness beyond the party. “You wanna — go talk somewhere else?”
Leta blatantly hesitated. Of course, she wouldn’t want to go walking off into the dark with him. What a stupid question. Why would she–
“Sure,” she said at last and even started to lead the way. Fiearius, reeling in relief, stepped into place behind her and they were quiet as they shuffled through the crowd and out onto the path that lead to the shuttle station.
They hadn’t gone far, the noise and light from the party still following after them, when Leta asked, “So. How’ve you been?” She asked it like she already knew the answer.
“Alright,” Fiearius replied instinctively and then only a moment later caught himself. “I don’t know why I’m lying to you. I’m — I’m better. Actually.”
She glanced back at him, in the ever dimming light, her face becoming unreadable. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” He put his hands in his pockets and took an extra step to catch up, falling into stride beside her. “Cyrus finally convinced me to talk to this therapist person and — I don’t know, it’s been helping. I think. At the very least, she helped me figure out something I could stand doing. So I have a job now.”
“Oh, yeah? What are you doing?”
It felt embarrassing to even say it. “Well, I’m the night cook for a little diner by the PIT station…”
Leta, however, seemed thrilled. She smiled up at him and, possibly in support or possibly because the further they walked from the party, the more the desert cold set in, she took his arm in hers. “That’s great!”
“Yeah,” he answered at first, looking down at where their elbows were looped together. And again, he caught himself in a lie. “Actually no.” He let out a barking laugh. “It’s pretty shit. It’s a lot of work and I get paid pretty much nothing and I always smell like old oil now.”
Leta chuckled under her breath. “I wasn’t gonna say anything…”
“Thanks…” he grumbled. “Anyway. It is what it is. And I am better. I’m just a little…” Lost was the word that came to his mind, though he didn’t want to say it. Freeing Satieri, defeating the Society, returning home, that had been his goal for so long. And he’d done it. And now that it was done, he was left feeling like there wasn’t a heck of a lot left to do. Everything wasn’t what he imagined. Nothing felt meaningful or purposeful anymore. And everything he’d wanted was–gone.
“I’m just figuring things out still, that’s all,” he finished at last with his best impression of a careless shrug. “It’s fine.”
But Leta, of course, didn’t look convinced. She eyed him for a moment, the distant light from the hanging lanterns reflecting skepticism on her face. And then her expression changed. She looked away and crossed her free arm over her chest. “I know what you mean. It’s weird, isn’t it? ‘Winning’ I guess.”
Now it was his turn to eye her. Of everyone who’d come out of this, he had thought Leta had been taking it the best. She certainly made it seem that way. But she went on, “Every day, Vescent is starting to feel closer to what I remember, but — I don’t know, it still doesn’t feel any closer to home.” She glanced up at him, a hint uncertain. “This is what I wanted, but…it’s still weird.”
Fiearius couldn’t help but agree. “You’re still working at the clinic right?”
“Yeah,” she answered at once, running a hand through her hair. “Yeah I’m working at the clinic and that’s good. It’s good to be back, but it’s not–”
“Satisfying,” Fiearius finished for her and she nodded.
“Exactly. I used to love the thrill and dangr of the ER, but it just doesn’t have that appeal anymore.” She laughed grimly. “I guess a broken arm pales in comparison to raiding Society bases.” They fell silent for a moment as they came to a stop on the path, both simply watching the lights dance around their shadows. Finally, it was Leta who cracked first and groaned dramatically, “Why is this so hard?”
At that, Fiearius let out a genuine laugh. “What, adapting to normal life? Probably ‘cause we’re not normal.”
“No, you’re not normal,” Leta barked back. “I’m supposed to be the image of normality. Classy doctor, remember?”
“Oh I’d never forget,” Fiearius chuckled. “Maybe we just need to find some new massive power structure to derail.”
Leta pointed at him excitedly. “Ooh that could work. Let’s conquer something else.”
“Where do ya have in mind? Carthis? Paraven?”
“How about Tarin? I always loved Tarin.”
Fiearius looked up at the sky thoughtfully. “Tarin’s just a rotating democracy. Wouldn’t be that hard. Could probably take it with a few well-timed assassinations and some underground support I’d think.”
“Perfect, let’s do it,” Leta declared, turning towards him, seizing his forearms and lifting them up in her passion. “Let’s conquer Tarin and claim it as our own.”
“I can see it now,” Fiearius mused dramatically, dropping his arms over her shoulders as she put her hands on his waist. “Fiearius Soliveré, Supreme King of Tarin. And at his side, Ultimate Queen Leta Adler, the most fearsome and benevolent and classy Queen to ever rule.”
She laughed in agreement and despite the bravado, Fiearius looked down at her curiously. Somehow they were standing in a strange sort of loose hug. How that had exactly happened, he wasn’t sure. But now, he was a mere foot from her and privy to examining all those new little spots that had formed on her face. She looked different. Older, more mature, more weathered by everything she’d gone through. But at the same time, nothing about her had changed. Not since that very first night he’d held her a little too tight and admired her a little too closely. Her face that had never strayed too far from his thoughts was still just as he remembered it.
It seemed her line of thinking had gone a similar way and finally it was time to address to elephant in the room. Her expression had softened by the time she muttered, “Why didn’t you talk to me?”
Fiearius’ voice caught in his throat and she went on. “Why didn’t you answer? Anything? I–how many messages did I send you? How many times did I call? And–and nothing…” Leta looked away from him.
Slowly, he shook his head. “Gods, Leta, I’m so sorry, I –”
“I just want to know what happened.”
“Nothing, I just — I couldn’t…”
Her arms dropped away from him and her face was wrought with hurt. “Why?”
He opened his mouth and nothing came out. “Why?” she pressed again and suddenly the dam broke.
“Because I couldn’t. I can’t explain it. I just couldn’t. I was embarrassed and ashamed and — I wasn’t me anymore,” he said, the words flowing from him like a waterfall. “It felt like someone had taken over my body and I could remember what it was like to be me, but I couldn’t remember how to, and then I got all these messages from you and I knew. You wanted to talk to me, but I wasn’t there so you’d call and call and I just couldn’t answer because this — this — wasn’t who you wanted to talk to.”
“No,” he cut her off, taking a step back. “I fucked up, I know, okay? I joked about it, yeah, and then I actually did it because–” He let out a grim laugh. “I always do. I’m really good at fucking things up. And I’m sorry. Gods, I am so sorry. I don’t know what happened to me, I don’t really understand why I did what I did, I know, I should have just talked to you. Hell, you were probably going through the same fucking thing, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. And I’m sorry and I don’t expect you to forgive me, but –”
“I do,” Leta interrupted suddenly and he frowned at her. “I do forgive you.”
For a moment, the words stopped again. “Well — you shouldn’t.”
“But I do,” she said quietly, stepping towards him. “I understand.”
“What? No.” He stepped back again. “No you don’t.”
“I do,” she insisted again, once more closing the gap. “I mean, I won’t lie to you, I was heartbroken. It really fucking hurt when you shut me out like that. But — I get it. You needed to deal with something really hard and you needed to do it your way which — is a way I don’t necessarily agree with. It’s kind of a stupid way.” She frowned accusingly. “But recovery takes what it takes and — I’m glad you found your way out of it. I just wish I could have helped.”
Fiearius stared at her, lost for words. Of course, he could think of few better outcomes than this one, but it still left him feeling troubled. Why did he deserve such an easy clean slate? It didn’t make sense until —
“And what happened to us wasn’t entirely your fault,” Leta admitted, looking down at her feet. “I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t do anything about it. I just called you and sent messages, two forms of communication I know full well you’re not comfortable with.” She glanced up at him furtively. “I should have come back. I could have come at anytime, but I didn’t. I just buried myself in work and pretended I was doing all I could. But if I cared as much as I should have, I would have come back.”
Fiearius stared at her and then asked hesitantly, “Is this your way of telling me you’re over me?”
After a moment of incredibly tense silence, he smiled and she laughed and shook her head. “No, gods, no. Not at all. The opposite, even.” Her eyes fell back to the ground and she knotted her fingers together. “I was afraid. Of — I don’t know, that it wouldn’t work. Even if we called each other every day and talked all the time, that it still wouldn’t work. Me on Vescent, you on Satieri, even if we did everything right, it couldn’t have gone on that way forever.”
Fiearius released a long breath. “The thought had definitely crossed my mind…”
“I didn’t want to think about it,” she admitted, “I didn’t want to accept it. And with the clinic taking off and Vescent seeming to get better, I didn’t want to change it either. So…I don’t know. It was just…easy. To let it fall apart. To say there was nothing I could do, it was just Fiearius being Fiearius. And that was that.” Her shoulders lifted in a tiny shrug and finally, she looked back up at him. “So it wasn’t all you. We both built walls in our own ways…And I’m sorry too.”
“You don’t have to be…” Fiearius mumbled.
“Then you don’t have to be either.” She closed the gap between them and put her arms back around his waist. “We screwed up. Both of us. Let’s call it even.”
“It’s not,” Fiearius began to argue but Leta put a finger to his lips.
“It’s even,” she said again, more sternly. “And anyway, it’s in the past.”
Fiearius sighed and shook his head. “We never could get the timing right, could we?”
“We certainly couldn’t.”
“Something I’ll always regret,” he mumbled, suddenly finding her lips incredibly distracting.
Those lips curved towards a sad smile. “Me too.”
Her hands slid up the plane of his back, his moved down to rest on her hips and ever so slowly, the space between them closed until Fiearius felt the warm familiar wonder of her kiss. It was a slow kiss, a soft kiss, a kiss culminating in all the years of their strange tumultuous relationship. But here on this dark path, kissing Leta, it was the first time since the war ended that Fiearius felt…right. Right like he hadn’t been in so long.
But all good things had to come to an end didn’t they?
“O’rian! O’rian!” came a sudden shrill voice, barreling towards them down the path. Fiearius let out a good-natured groan as he separated himself from the beautiful woman in front of him and turned his attention to the tiny little woman running straight at his legs.
Kalli, as she was wont to do, stretched out her arms and, on cue, Fiearius swooped her up into his where she giggled incessantly. “O’rian, why were you kissing A’iya Leta?” she demanded cheerfully and it took a moment’s effort to not be embarrassed by the accusation of a six year old.
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” Fiearius assured her as Leta blushed red and stifled a laugh.
“I’m telling ti’hma” Kalli said and Fiearius passed Leta a fake worried grimace.
“What’s your ti’hma up to right now, huh?” he asked the little girl.
“Oh, she told me to tell you it’s my bedtime and you have to take me home now,” Kalli relayed importantly.
“Is that so?” cooed Leta curiously. “And you want to go to bed?” Kalli shook her head vigorously.
Fiearius chuckled. “She just knows that if she’s good today and does everything ti’hma says, she’ll buy her the big purple dragon from the toy store, isn’t that right?” Now, Kalli nodded. Well who was he to deny his niece a big purple dragon? He looked to Leta, “I guess I better be taking her home then.”
“I wouldn’t want you to piss off a bride on her wedding day,” Leta chuckled.
And now he was supposed to say goodbye. It was good seeing you. Maybe I’ll see you again someday. But the notion just seemed so–well he didn’t want to say goodbye, frankly. So instead, he said, “Hey, I’m just babysitting this little monster at my brother’s place all week while they’re on their honeymoon. If you’re still around, I mean…you could stop by sometime. Have dinner with us or…watch a movie or something? If you don’t have to head back to Vescent right away.”
Leta’s face at once was struck by a certain disappointed sadness. “I’m afraid I’ve got to catch the first ship back tomorrow morning. One of my patients relapsed and–.”
That disappointed sadness was contagious. “Ah yeah, I figured,” he muttered. She was right after all. It would never work. One here, one there. What was the point of dragging it out? All that would accomplish is more pain for the both of them. Best just to let it fade…
“Well.” He shifted Kalli in his arms as she looked between the two of them curiously. “Have a good trip then.”
He started to turn away from her before he stopped and took one last look. “It was really good seeing you.”
She smiled back at him, the lanterns above the party catching the lights of her eyes. “Yeah, you too,” she said. “And Fiear?”
“We’ll see each other again soon,” she promised. Wasn’t that the same thing she’d said a year and a half ago? Fiearius smiled back and nodded like he was supposed to, but as he turned and walked away, he had the feeling it would be the last time for a long while.
Cyrus swung open the door to his apartment and stepped into the hallway. Where did she say it was again? Damn, he should have been paying better attention.
He marched down the hall and past the living room where he saw the shape of his sleeping brother on the couch. Cyrus paused for a moment to consider him, one leg propped up against the wall, the other flayed off the edge and his spine making a bit of an ‘L’ shape. The pose seemed far too mangled to be comfortable enough to sleep in and yet there he was, still in the same clothes he wore to the wedding the night before, eyes shut, snoring lightly.
Maybe they should get a bigger couch…
But that was a problem for a later date. For now — “Hey, wake up,” Cyrus barked, smacking the wall above Fiearius with his palm. The jolt was enough to send Fiearius flailing to not fall off the edge of the cushions and tumble to the floor. He managed, but only barely. Cyrus stifled a laugh.
“W-what?” asked the weary man, blinking himself furiously into consciousness and desperately grasping at an understanding of his surroundings.
“Get up,” Cyrus ordered, smacking the wall again and turning on his heel to head towards the bedrooms. Surely, if it was anywhere, it would be there. Behind him, Fiearius stumbled to his feet and stood in the center of the living room, looking completely lost. But finally, he woke up enough to follow.
“What are you doing here?” he pressed as Cyrus ripped the sheets off of their bed then crouched down to look under it. “Aren’t you supposed to be on your honeymoon?”
“Yeah, on our way there,” Cyrus answered, finding nothing. Seriously, where the hell did it go? He checked the drawers next. “Just need to grab something first.”
Fiearius hovered in the doorway, running his hand through his messy hair. “What is it?”
“Diagnostics tablet.” Not in the drawers either. He spun around and made a rectangle with his fingers. “Just a regular looking tablet, about this big, should be around here somewhere.”
“Okay…” Fiearius glanced around the room as if his apathy might actually help locate it. Then he frowned and asked, “Why the hell do you need a diagnostics tablet on your honeymoon?”
Cyrus slid the closet door shut. “When do you not need a diagnostics tablet?”
Fiearius opened his mouth to argue, but as Cyrus brushed past him and headed towards Kalli’s room, he decided against it. It seemed unlikely that their six year old had need of the tablet last, but then again, it seemed incredibly likely that Kalli had taken the tablet anyway. He stood in the doorway and did a visual sweep of the room. The unoccupied room, as Fiearius noticed when he arrived moments later.
“Wait, where the hell is Kalli?!” he demanded with the kind of panic only possible from a man who had just lost his niece.
But Cyrus waved him off. “She’s with Addy. She came by earlier when you were still asleep.”
Fiearius gaped at him as Cyrus got on his hands and knees and put his head to the ground, squinting into the darkness beneath the bed. “I thought I was babysitting her while you’re gone.”
“Yeah, you were,” Cyrus answered, seeing a suspicious black shape near the wall under the bed. He grimaced as he reached for it. “What kind of babysitter lets someone just walk in and abduct their charge while they’re sleeping?”
“The door was locked,” Fiearius pointed out, sounding more than a little confused and still a tad too asleep to process what was happening. But when Cyrus sat up, unsuccessful, he too got on the ground and reached under the bed, his longer arm making contact and pulling the shape out from underneath it.
“Ah, there it is!” Cyrus took the tablet from his hand and rose to his feet. “Alright, that’s all we need, let’s go.” He stalked from the room and headed for the front door. Fiearius, albeit slowly, followed. Until he stopped. Cyrus had already opened the door and stepped out onto the landing when he looked back and saw his brother lingering in the living room, looking down at the couch as though contemplating whether it’d be worth trying to sleep on it again.
“Hey,” Cyrus called.