“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.
“Mr. Uli’s back with another of his famous ailments,” complained Dr. Halloway, rolling her eyes. “What do I do?”
“Just give him some sugar pills and send him on his way, we don’t have the space right now,” Leta advised, edging around her as she groaned and walked off. A hand shot up from amongst the crowd of doctors and nurses as someone called out.
“Dr. Adler, where did we put that case of supplies that came in yesterday?”
“Storage C!” Leta called back, ducking out of the way as a group of emergency personnel ran past at full speed, pushing a stretcher with far too much blood. She was about to chase after it when she spotted another doctor already on its tail. Taken care of. Good.
Finally, she emerged out of the crowded hallway into the equally crowded main floor of the clinic. Every bed that lined the room was claimed. Her staff huddled around them, working at double speed to handle the huge influx. But as busy as it was, Leta was relieved. Until recently, this level of crowdedness meant violence in the streets, explosions, turmoil. This, though? Six months after the end of the war?
“We’re running low on meds,” someone told her as she passed them.
“Already?” She sighed. “Get in touch with Unity, they might have some surplus.”
At last, after skillfully navigating her way through the maze of cots, she arrived at administration where Nikki was perched on a stool awaiting her. “Patch it through to your office?” he asked without missing a beat.
The room behind her was filled with a cacophony of noise. Coughing, talking, shouting to be heard over everything else. The kind of noise only a busy clinic could make. It was comforting and familiar and as stressful as it was, she couldn’t get enough of it, but as a backdrop to a call?
“Yes please,” she responded, swinging open the door to her tiny private office and switching on the light. It was little more than a closet, but it had a window out to the clinic floor and it held a desk, a console and a few moments of peace whenever she needed them. Collapsing into her chair, her finger hovered over the COMM button for just a moment as she glanced at the screen to prepare herself for whatever exchange was about to happen. She read the name and her heart leapt in her chest.
“Hey!” came the cheerful voice on the other side of the line, but it wasn’t the voice she was expecting. Not quite.
“Oh, Cy!” She tried not to sound disappointed, but she didn’t succeed.
“Sorry, is now a bad time?” he asked. “Time maps always confuse me, did I get it wrong? I can call back later…”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Leta assured him, forcing herself to smile as she spoke and praying it would help her demeanor. Fleetingly, she glanced out at the bustling clinic. “I mean, it’s as good a time as any.”
“You’re probably working, huh?” Cyrus guessed and Leta snorted a laugh. “When are you not though? Is your dad still making you babysit peace talks?”
“Fortunately, no! That’s all sorted out now. Didn’t you hear? Vescent’s parliament is reinstated. Except all of the old legislators got voted out and replaced with the leaders of the rebellion.”
Now Cyrus laughed. “You’re kidding.”
“Believe me, I wish I was. If my father makes me attend one more dinner with his friends who can’t shut up about how they were ‘robbed’ and what their plans should be for the next election, I’m going to go nuts,” she moaned, propping her head in her hand. “As far as I’m concerned, some new blood in those stuffy halls isn’t a bad thing. Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t call me to talk about Vescentian politics.”
“Nonsense, it’s my favorite subject.” He chuckled. “But you’re right.” Suddenly, his tone got very serious. “I did call you for a reason. I have some news.”
Leta’s stomach churned with worry. Her mind raced to a thousand places. What had happened? She had known something was wrong, hadn’t she? She’d felt it stirring in the back of her mind for a few weeks now. Taking in a deep breath, she tried to keep herself from jumping to the absolute worst conclusions before she asked, “Good or bad?”
“Both,” was Cyrus’ hesitant answer. “Preference on which first?”
Leta ran a nervous hand through her hair. “Bad,” she decided. “Bad first.”
“Okay, if you’re sure.” Cyrus paused for far too long and Leta clamped her eyes shut in preparation, praying it wasn’t what she was thinking. Please, be alright. Please.
“The bad news,” he began slowly. “Is that–it’s official now. You and I are just never gonna happen. I’m sorry.”
Leta’s eyes snapped open. “What?”
“The good news,” he continued, his voice instantly cheering up, “is that you’re invited to a wedding!”
She gaped at the console for a moment, her brain trying to catch up. “Wait, what?!”
On the other end of the line, Cyrus was laughing raucously. “Yeah! Um–Addy and I are getting married! We don’t have a date just yet, but of course you’re coming, so–”
“Cyrus!” Leta cut him off, slamming her hand down on the desk. “You–you asshole.” He was still laughing and as Leta slowly broke out of her panic, she couldn’t help but release a few breathless laughs of her own. “You can’t do that to me! I was really worried!”
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist!” he apologized without sounding even the slightest bit sorry.
“Yeah sure you couldn’t.” She rolled her eyes, but she was too relieved to know something actually wasn’t wrong to be too angry. Besides, this was the best news she’d heard in months. “But your shitty delivery method aside, congratulations! I’m so happy for you two. Tell me everything. You proposed?” She paused. “Again?”
“Ouch,” he hissed, but shook it off. “Okay, I guess I deserved that. But yeah, I proposed. Again. I dunno, I’ve been putting it off for a while, y’know? She always said she wanted to wait til we were back on Satieri, but we’ve been so overwhelmed with reparations and Kalli and figuring everything out and — I mean, there’s no rush. But we moved into our new apartment a few weeks ago and things are finally starting to even out so — I don’t know, why not right?”
“Right,” Leta agreed and added impatiently, “So you–?”
He laughed again, embarrassed. “I eh — it’s cheesy…”
“All the more reason I want to hear it.”
“It’s really cheesy.”
He finally relented. “Okay, okay. I took her out to the junkyard by the east docks to salvage parts for our project.” Leta couldn’t stop a laugh from trickling out which he immediately took offense to. “Hey! You wanna hear this or not?”
“I do, I do, I’m sorry!” She stifled the laughter. “You went to your nerdy paradise, got it, go on.”
He made a noise of disapproval, but continued. “So we spent a few hours out there digging through it. There were a lot of new additions after the cleanup so we really did find some good stuff that’ll come in handy. Hell, we pretty much found a whole replacement engine if I can just–”
“Right, sorry.” He coughed uncomfortably. “Anyway, around sunset she said we should head back but I insisted we check out one more area, just in case. So we went over there and there was this really rare adapter we were sure we’d never find just sitting around in a junkyard. Because we wouldn’t. And we didn’t. Because I bought it a few days back and put it there that very morning.”
Leta practically squealed in anticipation. “And there was a ring in it?” she guessed.
“What? No, no, Ridellians don’t do the ring thing,” he corrected. “Though that would have been a good idea…But no, we do the S’aré Circle. The person asking draws a circle on the ground around the person being asked and then you stand together and…y’know…ask.”
“So the rare part she picked up–?”
“Was in the center of the S’aré Circle,” Cyrus confirmed and Leta could picture his cheeks turning pink as he talked about it. “Which she noticed a moment later and then — yeah, I asked her. And she said yes. And now we’re getting married! And you’re invited. Sorry I worried you with the whole…bad news thing.”
Leta shook her head. “It’s fine, you told me an adorable heart-warming story, I forgive you.” Then, she added, far more sternly, “But seriously, never do that again. You scared the daylights out of me.”
“Sorry, sorry,” he said yet again. “I didn’t think you’d freak out so much. What the hell did you think I was going to say?”
The onslaught of potential disasters that she had pushed from her mind suddenly came barreling back in, but this time she was able to quell them. Cyrus would have told her if anything that terrible at happened. She was being unreasonable and she knew it. “I don’t know, just — something far worse than that,” she muttered, trying to laugh it off, but once again, she failed to mask the nerves even in her laugh.
And Cyrus read her mind. “About Fiear?”
She’d promised herself she wouldn’t get Cyrus involved in this as some kind of middleman. He didn’t deserve that. And besides, wasn’t she supposed to be stronger than this? Stronger than worrying about a man halfway across the Span and what he might be thinking.
Her promise, however, forgot to take into account Cyrus’ good-heartedness. “Have you talked to him?” he asked without prompting.
Leta covered her face with her hand. “Not recently…The last we spoke was a couple weeks ago and even that was –” Awkward. Uncomfortable. Full of long pauses and unspoken words. “Brief. I’ve been trying to call him again since then, but he hasn’t answered. Or called me back.” She sighed and added hurriedly, “We don’t have to talk about this, if you don’t–”
“It’s okay,” Cyrus cut her off. “If you need to talk, talk.”
The logical, practical part of her wanted to say ‘no, I’m fine’ but the emotional part just kept going. “I don’t know what happened. I knew this would be hard, but it’s — we used to talk all the time, when I first moved here. Or as much as we could, anyway. Things were kind of crazy, but we made it work. I’ll admit I kind of lost track of things for a bit, with the clinic really amping up again, but, I don’t know, it seemed okay. But now — gods, we barely speak and when we do it’s like there’s some wall between us I can’t break through.”
Her hand ran down her face and she looked up at the screen blankly. Feeling a sudden urge to lighten the mood, she added, “But good to know nothing terrible happened to him, it’s just me.”
Cyrus was quiet for a long moment, so long she almost tried to crack another joke, but before she could think of one, he said, “Well I wouldn’t say that, exactly…”
Leta’s eyes widened in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“Oh nothing terrible happened to him,” Cyrus clarified in a hurry. “Not…really. I just don’t think it’s you. He’s — eh — been in a bit of a funk lately. Moreso than usual. And funk is probably understating it.”
Leta went silent, lost in thought. So Fiearius hadn’t just been acting strange to her which was something of a relief perhaps. But barely. She wanted to know more, but suddenly Cyrus started talking about something seemingly unrelated.
“We finally had our elections early last month, don’t know if you knew that. Fiear wasn’t even on the ballot, he still got some ridiculous percentage of the vote, but Varris and her council won as predicted. They’re making a lot of progress already. The reparations kicked into double-time now that there’s someone managing the budget and we closed the last camp a few weeks ago. All of Paradiex is back in permanent housing now. Businesses are reopening. We even had a festival a few days ago. Things are starting to get back to normal.”
“That’s–that’s great,” Leta muttered, unsure what this had to do with Fiearius.
Until he said, “Yeah, normal is great. But–not for everyone I don’t think,” which made it all click into place within her head. Of course, normal wasn’t great for everyone. Fiearius wasn’t built for normal.
“He’s not adapting well?”
“Again, understatement,” Cyrus replied. “It’s weird, everyone’s mood seems to be gradually getting better, but his just keeps getting worse. He got this shitty run-down apartment near the Nautilus Void, just barely outside the safety line. The new council offered him a damn mansion practically and he turned it down. He still visits at least once every other day and he’s relatively normal around us and with Kalli, but when he leaves? Gods, it’s like we’re turning a puppy out into the pouring rain. No idea what he does on days he doesn’t visit. He’s not working. He always looks exhausted. I don’t think he’s sleeping which is no surprise, he’s been a chronic insomniac since we were kids, but–”
Cyrus released a sigh. “We’re worried, frankly. I haven’t seen him this bad since…well, right after we left Satieri to begin with. He won’t talk to me about it, he brushes off any suggestion to talk to a professional, I thought maybe at least he was talking to you…”
Leta shook her head. “He’s not…But it sounds like depression.”
“I think it’s grief,” Cyrus suggested.
“Over the Dionysian? Quin? Dez?”
“Maybe. But I was thinking a grief older than that.” The theory made Leta go quiet. They’d all lost the lives they once knew long before the war ever started. She’d grieved her own, no doubt Cyrus grieved his, but Fiearius’ previous life had a few pieces theirs had lacked. He had parts of a life that was harder to lose. And she couldn’t agree more when Cyrus muttered, “I don’t know, getting back to Satieri was what he always thought he wanted but — now that he’s here, I think maybe it wasn’t.”
“Yeah…” was all Leta managed, her chin propped in her hands as she stared across the room at the empty wall behind the door. The line went quiet for a long time. So long, she might have thought Cyrus had disconnected.
But finally he spoke again. “I hate to ask this of you, I certainly don’t want you to exert yourself in a way you’re not comfortable with but — I do think if anyone can help him, it’d be you so….” He hesitated. “I’m sorry he’s being a jerk and not talking to you right now, but if you can, please don’t stop trying.”
For the first time since they’d turned to this topic, Leta smiled. “Oh I won’t. Don’t worry about that.”
“You’re a better person than I, I’ll give you that,” Cyrus commented. “Anyway, I should let you get back to work. Sorry this got so dark. I’ll get in touch as soon as we have a plan for the wedding, I know we’ve got a lot of Ridellian culture to teach you before it happens.”
Leta laughed once. “Oh I’m looking forward to it.”
“Take care of yourself, Leta.”
The COMM line disconnected, leaving Leta sitting alone in the relative dark of the tiny closet office. She looked out at the clinic floor and knew as soon as she walked out of that door, she would be bombarded with questions, needs, demands. She would be reabsorbed back into her new life, the one she’d carved out for herself in this new Span. A life she loved, honestly, even more than her past.
But there were still a few things she’d change…
Leta looked back at her console, frowned and scrolled through her list of contacts until she found Fiearius’ name.
She took a deep breath and hit ‘call’.