Lodestone: A Wynston/Ruth Alternate Universe
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12.26.2012 , 11:01 PM |
L + 15 years 1 day, part 3
"Wrath. Your servant has arrived safely?"
Ruth gaped at Servant One for half a second. "'Servant' is really not the…ugh. Yes. The Moff is here."
"Good. His forces will coordinate with your own."
"The command is one," contributed Servant Two. She hated the sound of his voice, and had ever since the first time he'd upset baby Colrand.
"Your strike against the agent Wynston failed," Servant One said coldly. "The search will proceed. He threatens the Emperor's plan, and his harassment will not be tolerated."
"What is this plan, anyway?" Ruth asked flatly.
Servant One scowled. "Our master's rituals must not be interrupted. You will stand guard. Destroy those who interfere. Guard his initiates."
"And put an end to treason," said Servant Two.
"That can be arranged," said Ruth. They didn't offer the most satisfying explanation of the situation, but it would have to do. Wynston's people might be able to shed some light; she could get some use out of them before she…before she did what was required.
"While the search for Wynston continues, your first target dwells on a distant planet: a nest of rebellion that occupies a location we require. Root them out. Clear the way."
"It will be as you say."
The Servants hung up. Ruth considered her prospects and didn't like any of them.
Quinn's voice intruded on her thoughts. "My command ship is stationed in orbit; we can leave at any time."
"I'm not going anywhere yet," she snapped. "Where's Young Briggs? I'll have him set you up with network access for your correspondence."
Right on cue, the middle-aged servant appeared from the hallway. "My lord?"
"Get this one set up with a console, would you? Outer access only, he doesn't need the local systems." Ruth scowled at Quinn. "Now excuse me."
Colrand caught up with her in the hallway. He looked even paler than usual. "Mom. Got a minute?"
Ah, something that wasn't her failure with Wynston or her ongoing irritation with Quinn. "Yes, absolutely."
They stepped into the den. Colrand, looking nervous, shut the door. "Um. While you were doing your thing, I got a call from one of Wynston's people. They had some news."
She stiffened. "They called you?"
"You were busy. Look, they said Wynston's okay."
She let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "I see."
"Some of them want to meet up somewhere. They've got…I mean, did he ever tell you about your orders?"
"Tell me what?"
"The Emperor's command. It's not just advice, we think he's controlling you. You didn't have a choice, about Wynston, it wasn't your fault."
"I don't want to talk about that," Ruth said automatically. "I did what I had to do."
"We both know you would never, ever hurt him if you had the choice. Mom, you've never cared about anyone as much as you do about him."
"I care about you," she said. "Now drop it."
"Orphea said that's the Emperor's will. Not yours."
"And this Orphea is what to me?"
"She's with him. Professionally, I mean."
"And he…" Ruth stopped. "Stars. You may be right. It's fading, but I think…but even if it's true, Cole, we don't have countermeasures." She put her head in her hands. "Even if we can say it isn't my fault, it'll be my hand."
"No, Mom. He's gonna be okay. They said they found some people who can help. We'll figure it out."
Ruth made an effort for a smile. She nodded. "We will. I've apparently got a plan to uncover while Wynston…does what he has to."
She hugged Colrand then, very tightly, and did not talk about the possibility that he might be a target someday, too.
He stepped away without bringing it up himself. "And then Father," he said. "Job aside. Could you…give him a chance?"
No. "I'll think about it."
"When we found out what happened with Wynston, when he heard…Mom, he gets it. You should've seen him."
"No, he doesn't get it. What I did was forced." It was a relief to think that. It really was. "What he did was chosen."
"I kind of…the way he talks, I'm not sure he knows the difference. Not once he's got his orders."
"He doesn't know the difference, Cole. We do. Never forget that."
"He was happy to see you, you know. I know there's…there's a lot of stuff going on, but talking to me, he's grateful to be seeing both of us. Just, please. Give him a chance."
"It's different now." He quieted a little. And pleaded. "I just found him."
"Cole." She hugged him again. "I'll do what I can, all right?" She looked up at his face, handsome, familiar, loved. "You are the last person I want hurt by everything that's going on."
"Wynston's in danger. You're torn up about it. My father is here and he's just, we're catching up on everything and we still can't trust him." He smiled weakly. "What's not to love?"
"You know, the whole reason I kept you away from Korriban was to avoid violent political complications."
"Yeah, well. Wrath at home, right?"
"Yes, I'm afraid. Wrath at home." She smiled sadly. "I should call…who did you say it was?"
L + 15 years 1 day, part 4
"Wrath. It's an honor to meet you. I'm Orphea." Respectful and impressed, that was Orphea, who, while not young, still hadn't kept such heady company before.
"You contacted my son," Ruth's holo image said flatly.
"It was urgent. Wynston recommended it."
"Take your calls to me." Impossible, unfortunately, since Ruth was an open book to her potential enemy. She seemed to realize it, too. "Whenever you can," she amended.
"I will. He's level-headed, but it's never fair to involve a youngster." That was patently untrue, or at least, it was often necessary regardless of fairness. Not the point at the moment. "Wynston's all right and he's making sure that as few people as possible know where he is. He won't make it easy to track him down."
"Good. Now, my orders are on him alone at present. You think I can still work with you?"
Stars, yes. "Absolutely. Your attempt on his life was coerced. All our resources point to the Emperor's influence as a powerful short-term mind control with uncertain long-term effects. We have the word of an expert on that. If we can break that, Wrath, and shield you from the Emperor's investigation, he'll have no hold over you. And then you'll be able to help us with the long game."
"I'll be able to see your boss without trying to kill him." Ruth sounded like that was more important to her. It eased Orphea's heartache to hear it.
"That, too," the agent said casually. Then again, the other consideration was the fate of the entire galaxy. "I think you'll find our reasons for this particular long game compelling."
"Could you be a little more vague?" Ruth said impatiently.
"We need to talk in person. I'll bring in Jaesa on this call, if you don't mind; she's a likely introduction point, a believable one, in case certain parties will be watching and reporting."
Orphea cut Jaesa's call in. The motherly Sith nodded greeting. "Ruth," she said. "Are you all right?"
"Something to discuss later," said Ruth. Pain behind those words. "So, are you going to bring some friends of yours to meet me for a thoroughly casual lunch? Or maybe midnight snack, I'd like to do this sooner rather than later."
"Tomorrow will have to suffice," Orphea said regretfully. "Is it safe to meet at your house?"
"No. When the Servants aren't yelling at me, Moff Quinn is." A prospect that Orphea found infuriating. "How's your old place in the city, Jaesa?"
"I don't stay there much since we set up the academy, but it's usable."
"Let's do it."
"One thing, Wrath," said Orphea. "The woman you're going to meet…she's a bit of a personality. Please remember that she's well qualified to help."
Ruth cocked an eyebrow. "I will, then."
The call ended, and Orphea gathered her thoughts. She was dying to see Ruth. It chafed to think that Quinn was there with her, lining up plans for her once again. To have no better company than him after an ordeal like yesterday must be…Orphea hated it. She hated it, and she couldn't help. The best she could offer was Larr Gith, who at that moment seemed like the least promising candidate for succor in the galaxy.
No, second least promising. Quinn was still first.
She went to find Lord Scourge. Talking strategy wouldn't wholly take her mind off Ruth, or Quinn, or the way Ruth had looked during Wynston's struggle for his life, her grip on his throat…but talking strategy would be productive, and Orphea needed something productive just then.
L + 15 years 1 day, part 5
The rain lashed at the lilies. Ruth stood on the verandah and thought of Hutta, of trying to run him through. She heard the door rattle but she didn't move. Instead she just hoped whoever it was would go away.
"It would be helpful to sleep, my lord."
She stared straight ahead. "Not going to happen." She was tired, but her mind wouldn't let her rest.
"I can offer some sedati-"
"I have no intention of harming you."
"You very rarely do." She sneered. "It's just your off days I worry about."
"We don't have time to debate this, my lord." Then, more quietly, "I doubt we could ever have enough time."
"Is there that much to say?"
Quinn, having stopped a few paces away from her, sighed. "Maybe not." He set himself at parade rest. "It is only fair for you to know that, this assignment notwithstanding, you are not in my direct chain of command. But we answer to the same will and our goals are aligned."
"I have less than no use for someone else's creature here. And if it weren't for Cole, you walking through my door with that announcement that would end badly for you."
"If it weren't for Cole, I would have seriously considered disputing this summons."
"I suppose that's your idea of a strong statement."
From the corner of her eye she saw that he wasn't looking at her. "You should try to get some sleep."
"Skip the advice."
"I know I am not welcome here, but in this and in what is to come, I am not your enemy."
The statement hit her far harder than it should have. "Do you have any idea how much I hear that?" It came out as a sob.
His composure wavered. "My lord?"
"You are the last person alive I would have wanted for help of any kind, and now they're telling me you're the best I've got." She took an unsteady breath. "You treacherous son of a *****. You're what I've got."
He took an intense interest in the garden. "You also have your son," he said steadily. "A remarkable son, one whose love for you is clear in everything he says. You have every reason to be proud of him. Furthermore you are in the right."
"If this were right, my real partner would be here to support it."
"Your actions seem to give the lie to that."
"I didn't have a choice," she snapped.
"Nor do any of us."
"No! I mean I didn't have a choice! The Emperor's command, it can't be resisted. He could turn anyone against anyone. I had to, had to watch. Worse than that. I had to carry the fight myself, attacking one of the two people I would never, ever hurt."
Quinn looked at her, frowning. "He…controlled you, such that you truly did not choose your actions."
"My lord, that's a nonsensical claim."
"You don't know his power. That's what he does, and I've only just begun to understand it."
"It may be a comfort to make up something to believe," he said solemnly, "but the exercise doesn't become you."
"I didn't make it up." Did she? No, everyone else agreed with her. Well, everyone associated with Wynston. But Wynston was a marked enemy with every reason to...no. "I didn't."
Quinn examined her face intently. "My lord, when is the last time you slept?"
"Why are you so obsessed with my sleeping habits?"
"Because you're better off sane."
What a joke. "I don't think that happens either way."
"Yes, it does," he said fiercely. "You've survived every hardship thus far and come out stronger for it. You'll survive this."
It didn't feel like it. "You don't know anything, Quinn."
"I do." He straightened out of parade rest, letting his arms fall to his sides. "I do. I didn't seek out knowing you, my lord, and for a long time I struggled to know you less well. For both our sakes. Matters went differently, and I do know. I am a soldier, nothing more, but what has been asked of us has not been so different."
"I wanted to know you," she said bitterly. "More every day. Now that I do I wish I hadn't tried."
The rain kept falling, and Quinn didn't move, and Ruth was too tired to run away.
It was some time before Quinn spoke again. "It comes apart quickly. Doesn't it."
"Comes apart?" She couldn't face the person who mattered. If the compulsion came back full force…she couldn't risk it. She couldn't see him again. "It's already gone."
Quinn faced the rain and was quiet.
The thought of Wynston was battering at her defenses, and it was true that Quinn knew what must be happening, and she hurt. "When I woke up this morning, for just a moment I thought things were normal and he was here." She bit her lip, steadied her nerve. "And then I remembered he wasn't. And then I remembered why."
His voice had a rough edge to it. "Should I tell you that fades before too long?"
"Is it true?"
"No. But the plausible falsehoods might be of use."
"Ah. If I find something that is, I will inform you." He turned back to her, and a gust of wind carried his words. "If there were one thing I could have that you could trust my offering to you, it would be that."
She hurt, and the wind was harsh. A sudden weakness drove her to step forward and press herself to him, hands on his chest, head tucked under his chin. Swiftly his arms closed around her; he lightly rested his cheek on her head, and otherwise he stayed still.
She couldn't feel his heartbeat through his thick uniform. Perhaps that would have been too much. She stood, and hurt, and he held her without seeking to pull her in closer or talk.
She sniffled. "You still haven't the right," she said forlornly.
"I know. But so long as I am required, I am here."
That got her crying in earnest.
He stroked her hair, running lightly down her back over and over. "I've never seen you cry."
"Things were never this bad." She hiccupped, or whatever it was Sith did when they were too dignified to hiccup. "Besides. Back when I cared what you thought, I didn't want you to see me doing anything this unseemly." Her tears were dripping onto his uniform. "Still think I'm strong?"
"Liar. You always lied."
"Not this time." After that he was quiet again. She still didn't have the heart to push him away.
A long time later she sniffled and shivered. "I shouldn't be doing this."
"Of course." He let her go and held very still, watching her, when she backed away. "Will you be able to sleep?"
"I think so. Some."
"Waking up is the hardest part. But you'll need the rest." He offered his arm, and she took it to proceed back indoors and to her room. At the door he disentangled himself and bowed. "I'll take my leave. Until you need me again, my lord."
"…Thank you, Quinn." Whatever his motives, he had given her a little time of not feeling alone in her guilt.
He nodded formally, his expression as close to kind as she had ever seen it. Then he turned on his heel and walked away.
Don't do it, Ruth! Argh! Don't believe Captain Representative of Satan! Don't accept his world!
Wynston, back in the day, skipped straight to physical comfort and an insistent inquiry on what was wrong. Quinn is more…support staff…about it.
The prime universe order on Larr Gith faded to nonbinding status in mere weeks. It's hard to safely test the limits on that.
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