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12.16.2012 , 02:32 PM |
Now: Fallout from that victory!
Lodestone: Home Ec – Gardening.
I'm kinda fuzzy on precise hour-to-hour timeline – how long does it take to get from Korriban to Dromund Kaas, anyway? – but that doesn't have to be the point. 2100 words.
The Niral estate lay west of Kaas City, settled in the jungle at a distance from civilization that really shouldn't be possible on a capital planet. Even at midafternoon the whole landscape seemed dark. The estate was an old place, some stone architecture mixed with the durasteel. Built to last, from the outermost wall to the low rain-streaked house within.
The transformation Wynston witnessed from the jungle's gloom to the house's interior was stunning. The indoors was brightly lit, touched but not cluttered with an eclectic mix of elements gathered from more areas of space than Ruth by herself could possibly have had time to visit.
Vette barreled past him, clearly on her way somewhere. "Uh," said Ruth, looking over from where she had been greeting a guard by name. "Vette?"
"I'm starving and you've got the most normally stocked kitchen on the planet," said Vette, making a beeline for the named room.
"I should've known that," said Ruth. She met Wynston's questioning look with a wry smile. "My father spent three years on Nar Shaddaa, and he ate like it," she explained. "This is apparently the only thing Vette noticed when she last visited, and she apparently appreciates it more than the subtleties of eating sleen."
"Yuck," yelled Vette from out of sight.
Ruth led the rest of the crew into a spacious room arranged to focus on a huge archaic fireplace. "Sit," she said, gesturing. "We'll – "
She cut off, looking at a far doorway. A rangy man in grey and green, Wynston's age or a little older, stood staring at Ruth, his whole presence heavy with emotion.
He gathered himself and bowed deeply. "My lord. Welcome home."
"Briggs." She walked swiftly to meet him, clasping his hands. The formality broken, the servant relaxed a few degrees and gave Ruth a smile that spoke of long friendship. She turned back to the room and said "This is Young Briggs. He and Deshla, wherever she went off to, will look after your needs. – I need to catch up with you first, Briggs. There's…I'm sure there's a great deal to set in order."
The servant's face clouded. "I've done what I can. But it's good you're here. This house needs a Niral."
"It doesn't have nearly enough of them," she said sadly. In response Young Briggs just reached to squeeze her hand again.
Ruth vanished somewhere with her servant. Wynston talked shop with the crew and accepted food and drink from a matronly-looking Twi'lek. It was some time before Ruth reappeared, and when she did it was to slip along one wall to get from one doorway to another without getting near the conversation. The crew exchanged glances but let her be. Wynston, however, felt drawn to check on her. After a couple of minutes' effort to stay still and stay busy, he gave up, got up, and went after her.
The hallway he found himself in ran parallel to an outdoor verandah. He spotted her standing outside a window well down the way; he found his way outdoors, acutely aware of the chill of the misting evening, and made a slow approach.
She was looking out into a thick-grown garden. A couple of cobbled paths were visible from here, winding down toward a pond unquiet with rain. There was an eerie beauty to it in the gathering gloom. Nothing he would seek out on his own, but it was a sort of beauty.
Ruth cast a low-lidded look in his direction and turned very slightly to invite him closer. Her face was streaked with tears, but she had a little smile for him.
Instinctively he put his arm around her and looked out across the garden, side by side in silence. After a little while she slid an arm around his waist. Still she said nothing.
It didn't seem like the time to talk business. Nor even matters between them. Instead, after a while, he casually said "I have to ask. Young Briggs?"
"Oh, he's well older than I am. But Briggs was there first. We had to call his son something."
"I see. Hereditary job?"
"Sort of. He is freeborn, we don't keep slaves. He grew up here; he went to the military as required of all citizens, but it didn't suit him, so Father pulled rank to bring him home."
That sounded like a very Niral thing to do, at least if Ruth was a representative Niral. "Your father. He was Sith, too?" So much background Wynston didn't have yet. And some he did, but he should let her tell him rather than remind her he had a dossier on her.
"Yes. From a long line of Sith." She shivered. "The house is wrong without him."
"I'm so sorry." He pressed his nose to her hair, let a little time pass. "I would have liked to meet him."
"Mm. He would've loved you. Anyone dedicated to the best parts of the Empire…." It took her a moment to go on. "He taught me everything I know. I wanted him there today."
He bit back the culturally-tailored platitude about a happy afterlife or, better for Sith, presence and will and pride and power after death. If there were ever a time to tell her comforting things he didn't believe it would be now; instead he turned a little, wrapped his other arm around her, and said "He left a legacy to be proud of."
It took a long time for her hug to loosen. She pulled back a little, raised one hand to stroke his hair, smiled weakly. Then she took his hand and turned away to face the garden. "Hm. What do you think of our rain?"
It probably wasn't very politic to give his real opinion. But, she had asked. "Given the chance I'd engineer the mess out of existence. It may be necessary but I don't have to like it."
She laughed softly. "I see. I won't ask you out into it, then."
"No, if you want to walk, I'm with you. Rain hasn't actually been known to kill me yet."
She started out onto one of the garden paths, stopping to check a drizzle-spotted lily. "My father loved this place," she said. "He took good care of them. He said they were what my mother liked best about this whole estate."
"They're lovely," he said. Less for rain-soaked vegetation and more for what it meant to her.
She continued, stopping frequently at one blossom or another. Like she was checking up on old friends. Their scent was heavy on the air, rich and sweet with something he had always associated with her. Ruth paused, touching a recently pruned stem. "It's been weeks since…he left home. Young Briggs must've made sure to look after these." She straightened, frowning. "He's…a good man."
He waited. She seemed to be thinking.
She shivered. "At least he hasn't done anything yet."
"I'm getting the impression that your family's people have every reason to love you."
"That doesn't mean anything," she said.
"No." That was just Quinn. "No, it means a great deal. Ruth, judging everyone by the standard of the worst you've met is a quick way to drive yourself out of your mind."
"It's hard not to look at it that way."
"I know. But don't make it the only possibility you consider."
Her mouth worked for a second. Then she shook her head. "Never mind. Let's not do this."
She kissed him, her lips startlingly cold in the rain, her hands damn near frigid. He hadn't kissed her halfway back to warmth before she pulled back. She didn't look tired or scared. Just determined. "There's more going on out there than I could sort out in a lifetime, Wynston, and I have to clamp it under control by next week or so. Here, now, it's just us. No policy statements. All right?"
"As you wish," he said softly, and let her lead him onward.
She didn't seem inclined to talk after that. She just kept checking the gardens, working her way around the unendingly rain-fretted pond. She moved on to a patch of lower plants with some kind of red flowers that seemed to glow in the dim weather's light.
They were pretty, actually. For plants. "Do you ever pick these?" he asked.
"Sometimes," she said. "You're free to, I can show you where we keep the vases when we get back in."
"That wasn't exactly what I had in mind." He leaned past her to go for a crimson blossom that seemed like it might have enough stem to be usable.
"Wait–" said Ruth.
He was already moving too quickly. And grasping a very large thorn. He jerked back and made the thousandth mental note of his lifetime to stay away from nature.
"Sorry, I thought you would be going for the other ones," she said. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," he said, allowing her to take his hand and wipe away the blood. "I'll have you know I was being romantic."
"You were." Instead of laughing she let his hand fall and turned to claim the flower he had tried to pick. She snapped it off somewhere upward of the offending thorn and presented it to him. "Better?"
"Hmm." He brushed her hair back and tucked the blossom behind her ear. "Brilliant. The flower's not bad, either."
She smiled self-consciously and looked at the ground. "I don't usually get these directed my way."
"Don't tell me a man's never gotten you flowers."
"Years and years ago, boys. There weren't any flowers to get when I went to Korriban, at least none that wouldn't kill you once you found where they were hiding. And since then, no."
"That's criminal." What lives these Sith led. Maybe not all of the game was real, but Wynston knew that these little attentions, the affirmations of individual charms – and, stars, every woman had something about her worth admiring – these things made life a lot more pleasant. "I'll have to find you some that I didn't just steal from your own yard."
"The jungle's right that way," she said, with wide innocent eyes and a small wicked curl of a smile, pointing out over the pond.
Wynston suppressed his instinctive reaction to that horrible suggestion and smiled. "I'll check Kaas City," he said lightly. "The florists there take the thorns off."
She smiled. Then blinked hard and let the smile fall away. "Right. Check the city."
"What is it?"
She stroked his hand for a while without looking at him. In time she said "Wynston?"
"What happens tomorrow?"
He lined up a number of possible answers to that, but most of those answers would be intentionally missing the point. "Tomorrow I should go retrieve my ship from Corellia. I'll need to be able to move as we push things into place for you. After that I can get to work checking out Baras's resources, clearing the way for you. Get you reports on what's where; we can talk about what use it can be to you and whether there's anything you'd be willing to spare for Intelligence. I can do a little quiet work here and there to smooth out any difficulties with potential rivals." All solid work. "That's what I would recommend professionally." And the only thing he should be recommending. "Or…I can stay with you. For a little while. Obviously I'd help to–"
"Stay," she said.
He kissed her to cover the urge to say more than he should. When he was feeling steadier he turned to kiss her cheek instead. "For a little while," he reminded himself out loud.
She nodded. "I know." Then she half smiled, turning her face into the hand he had rested on her other cheek. "I'm afraid my bed here only sleeps one," she murmured. "I'll arrange something tomorrow. In the mean time I'll set you up–"
"I've slept in some very limited spaces," he said. "If you don't mind. Otherwise, certainly, I'll settle elsewhere for the night."
"Stay," she repeated.
He smiled, rested his forehead against hers. "As you wish," he whispered. Another gathering of tiny raindrops on her face got together the mass to start rolling down. He was just about sick of the rain doing that. He held her close, traced the curve of her spine with his fingertips. "Let's go warm up then, shall we?"
That was, after all, the one good thing about getting caught in the rain.
"This house needs a Niral" also featured in the opening conversation between Colran and Briggs, Sr. some twenty-four years previously, when Colran first returned from Republic space to find his father and brothers dead from a house rival's power play. This house rarely changes hands peacefully.
This round, Wynston gets to comfortably focus on Ruth. His turn will come, oh yes.
Standing-up caresses change, significantly, when partners have <2 inches of height difference vs. >4. What's within easy kissing distance gets all messed up. I keep having to step through, line by line, to re-render this for different couples (thanks a lot, Vierce).
Also, I wrote Wynston's attitude toward rain before even thinking about metaphorical applications. Just, no, the guy hates rain. And uncontrollable outdoorsy nature and yuck yuck yucky yuck. I WILL HAVE NONE OF YOUR ROMANTIC WEATHER-RELATED MAKEOUTS. Please skip to the warm bed, the imported whiskey, and the blessed absence of annoying third-party organisms.
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