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12.09.2012 , 01:30 AM |
Lodestone: Turning Point.
1900 words. Standard implicit vague SW Act 3 spoilers.
Wake up. Inventory: normal sleeping clothes, mild aches here and there from the close-range engagement with the SIS sniper the previous day. Nothing that would slow him down. Surroundings, warmth behind him, lovely lean-muscled arms around him. Sounds, her breathing, and someone moving past in the hallway. Crew was already up.
He rested for a little while anyway. Work could wait a little while.
In time, though, he turned around. Without leaving the warm circle of her hold, of course. Her eyes opened as if she had been waiting for him all along. For a little while they just looked at each other. She ran a hand around to stroke his cheek and jaw. He leaned into it while trying not to break eye contact. He very much didn't want to break eye contact just then.
"I like waking up in your arms," he informed her.
She smiled drowsily. "I like it, too."
Alas, time to move. He pushed up to get closer to her. "Ready for the day?"
She looked thoughtfully at him. "Yes," she said after a few seconds.
He leaned into a slow kiss. "I'll be with you."
It was with some reluctance that he got moving; he followed Ruth out to join the crew at breakfast. Jaesa pulled her aside when that was done. Wynston settled at his console to skim Holonet and comms chatter until such time as he was called to work.
A long time later, he looked up and around. The ship was dead quiet; nobody had passed through in quite some time.
He found Pierce settled in the armory, checking weapons over. The big man grunted greeting.
"Are we moving today?" asked Wynston.
"Once the Wrath's ready," said Pierce. "She's in the conference room. Goin' in there would be hazardous to your health."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Don't know. I only know the degrees of worried Jaesa gives off. Max power and humming when she stepped out of there."
"I see. Thank you." That sounded bad, and so naturally Wynston made straight for the conference room.
He found Ruth was sitting at the head of the conference table. She had been crying. She was staring intently at a small holoprojection of a recording of Wynston himself facing Quinn.
Quinn's image spoke. "My feelings for the Wrath are less conditional than you seem to think, agent."
She tapped the console. The recording skipped.
"Do you have any idea what you did to her?"
"More than you could know."
"You must convince her to allow me to serve."
"Jaesa recorded it," Wynston said quietly. "Prudent."
"Yes," she said distantly, not looking at him. "She thinks ahead."
"I do hope she succeeds," said Quinn's image. "I hope that when your operation ends and you have no further use for her, your disappearance from her side will cause her less distress than mine did. I have not forgotten that the closest she ever came to defeat was in one of your operations based on your faulty intelligence. If you are all the servant she is to have, you had better start living up to your own opinion of yourself.
Do not fail her again."
"It isn't what he says about you," she said leadenly. "Just the way he says it. He was that passionate all the time. He sounds so much like he cares."
"If you've only ever learned one act, you get to be good at it."
"I wanted him."
She wiped her eyes. "This is why you were angry last night."
"Yes." He took a step closer. "Ruth, I told him I would talk to you, and here I am to say that no good can come of his survival. He'll only repeat the one lie he's got, and it'll only keep tearing you up."
She stiffened. "Should I feel better if he's dead?"
"It will hurt. I know that. But you've got to remove the blade before the wound can heal."
"You're less interested in that than in revenge."
As she would be if she were hard enough to really understand the concept, and for once he thought she could use that level of hardness. "Revenge by itself is a waste, but with some people you'll find it becomes a very satisfying thing to layer onto threat elimination."
"I'm not eliminating him." Her eyes finally moved up to him while the rest of her stayed still. "This isn't open for discussion. He will not die by my hand or yours."
"He doesn't deserve that mercy."
Her lip curled. "I thought you people wanted me to stay merciful."
"Not with him! He'll only come after you again sooner or later. We both know he doesn't give up at anything once he's sunk his claws in."
"You don't know anything. You haven't understood a thing he was doing or saying since day one." She lifted her chin and took on that air of command she used on other people. "This isn't something you talk me into, by argument or by charm, so don't try."
Her insistence was too cold to be childish, too childish to be cold, and too much of both to be anything he thought she would've called love for Quinn. Love, as had amply been demonstrated of late, was simply that which made a mark act against its own best interests; Wynston never thought it would look this harsh from her.
With an effort he got a hold of himself. "I didn't mean to presume, darling. I'm sorry. If you could see the hurt on your own face right now you would understand. We all hate seeing it. And he's the one who did it to you."
"Then he's mine to deal with. Isn't he."
He shouldn't keep talking. She was only getting more defensive. "He's a monster and still a threat," he said.
Her whole face twisted. "I know what he is! Better than you ever did, better than you ever will, no matter how hard you're trying to be a point-for-point replacement!"
"I'm not a replacement," Wynston said, with more calm than he felt. "For one thing, I'm here–"
"To do a job, you've said repeatedly. I'm on good terms with your masters so far. Shall we just hope that continues?"
"I told you they're not my masters anymore. Neither they nor anyone can make me hurt you."
"And I'll believe you just because you're good to me? Because I want to? You think I'm that stupid?"
He didn't have proof of his goodwill. There was none he could have and they both knew it. "You're not stupid, Ruth. Believe me because what we've given each other is real. When I'm with you–"
"You enjoy it, I'm sure." Her lip twitched again. "So do I. I can't think straight when you get close, you know that. But you're not controlling me, Wynston, not in anything. Especially something you understand as little as this."
How could she be that willfully wrong? "I understand he tried to kill you. How can anything else matter?"
"You don't get to ask that question! I won't take his offer if that's what you're worried about. But you don't get to harm him." Her gaze flicked back to the frozen holorecording. She activated it again.
"My understanding of the matter isn't in question," said Wynston's image.
"Quite right," said Quinn. "It's no use questioning what isn't there."
She stopped playback. "You sounded like you care, too," she said.
"Yes. I do."
"I want to believe you." Her blue eyes sparked when she looked up at him. "But that's attachment, isn't it? You're good at this. The comfort's been nice. Perhaps I needed it. Now it's time for you to get out."
His stomach turned inside out. "No," he heard himself say. "Don't ask me to leave you." He started towards her, struggling to marshal an argument centered on her. "Don't try to do this alone."
The force on his throat ended his progress and shoved him backwards. "Stop trying to manipulate me," she spat. "Get out and don't come back."
The only manipulation he was trying was for the good. He wanted to argue he wasn't trying to manipulate at all. He was trying to…he stopped. Save? Patronizing. Love? Irrevocable. Help? Not enough. Not nearly enough.
"You take direction so well when it's something you want," she said in a low hard voice. The next Force shove slammed into his heart and propelled him almost to the door, leaving him to stagger the last couple of steps. "You're so kind when I do what you say. So sweet as long as I act like the harmless child you enjoyed."
"Ruth, I care for you any way at all."
"I care enough to repeat, get out. That's the last chance you get."
It took everything he had to step backwards and let the door fall shut between them.
He stood still for a few moments. He felt dizzy for no good reason. There was almost nothing he could do. But he had to do something. Perhaps a quick walk over, around the corner, and he could end the source of the seeping poison. It would destroy all hope of going back, but in the end it would be better for her.
Except that her hate would remain for Intelligence and the new organization, too. The Wrath might come around to stability, but she would never be their ally. It'd be a failure of one mission and total prevention of many more. And it was the mission that mattered. Yes. The mission.
Fool. If he was going to pretend this was about the mission he should've sent Vector. Or any other Cipher Keeper could direct his way. Or anybody at all, because if Ruth was going to lash so hard at anyone who came, it would've been better for the person who came to not care.
He went back to Ruth's quarters and picked up his bag. He was always packed to move.
He ran into Vette on his way back out. "Uh, hi," said the Twi'lek, eyeing his luggage. "You going somewhere?"
"Yes." He kept his voice cool and steady. "I'm glad I caught you first, I'll need your holofrequency."
"Oh, no. You're not leaving now. There's still more crazy than me and Jaesa can beat."
"I'm not being given a choice. Give me your holofrequency, I'll be in touch." He spoke quickly to discourage the hurt she was doing a good job of not showing anywhere but in her eyes. "I'm not giving up, Vette."
"Yeah," she said in her flat unconvinced tone. "Well, look on the bright side. You're better off than the last guy she dumped." She took out her holo and tapped it. "Call any time you want, as long as it's soon."
He hurried out of the suddenly stifling ship into the hangar bay. His mind raced along safe colorless practical lines. He'd better get back to his own ship. Pick up any extra gear he needed. Continue the situational monitoring he had started. The Wrath still had a job to do and he had to help. It wasn't in his nature to do anything else.
Oh, hi, Ruth's sore spot. (She really liked waking up with Quinn, too.) And hi, just enough personal anger to make Wynston push beyond the limits suggested by caution. And hi, suspicion and parallels coming to the forefront the moment she's steady enough to feel she can reject support.
Also hi, Jaesa probably meaning to highlight Wynston's defense and ending up underestimating Ruth's continued attachment to the person she is very very angry at.
This might be the hardest piece of fic I've ever written.
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