Lodestone: A Wynston/Ruth Alternate Universe
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12.31.2012 , 09:27 PM |
L + 15 Years 8 days, part 1: Quinn urges perspective
Some scientist had been apprehended by Republic troops on some obscure world. Ruth was to take their base and retrieve the man to drop off in Imperial hands.
She wondered about the real purpose. Wynston was probably fighting assignments like this. But she couldn't help with that, except by practicing the block that would hide her thoughts. For now, she followed orders like a good Wrath.
Quinn did the research to set up a plan, which he laid out with his accustomed brisk professionalism. Ruth checked the map and frowned.
"Conservative," she said. "Let me take this entrance alone."
"My lord, there are several dozen–"
"I'll take it. If what you said about potential reinforcements is true, you'll need the rest of your men blocking that gate over there."
"You never faced odds like that alone."
"I have." It wasn't that remarkable. "You just weren't around to watch."
He raised his eyebrows, but he didn't object further. "Very well. I look forward to seeing you in action."
"Go where you're needed. I can handle this."
She did, barely. Her focus never quite came together; twinges of pain kept intruding on her accustomed discipline. Her defenses were poor, her attacks too reckless, and while she worked with the Force it wasn't the steady source she was used to.
She was in pain, and the saber and vibroblade strikes that scored through her armor weren't the problem.
She made it back to the
once the objective was secured. Quinn took one look at her and beckoned her to a small medbay. "We should minimize the publicity of your mortality," he said, shutting the door, and then started efficiently ministering to her wounds.
"Right." It was good policy. And she was too dispirited to argue. She lay back and felt embarrassed instead. "That wasn't my best work out there."
He drew a line of binding gel down her wounded side. "You were nearly outmatched."
"I was distracted. That's all." She examined the nearest wall. "We'll account for that in the future."
He ran a careful hand over her side, then reached over for something to dab at the deep cut on her face. He laid his other hand on her cheek in what might be argued to be a steadying gesture. "Was it really that great a loss?" he said quietly.
She jerked her head away, her limited goodwill toward him vanishing. He wasn't talking about the near-defeat in battle. "Don't. You. Dare."
"My lord, the question is sincere. Now please, let me finish tending to you."
She scowled and held still. He smoothed the cut over and moved on to her wounded arm. "Your distraction carries a cost, my lord. You should know that your distress is misplaced."
"I fear I must speak freely. The agent did you no favors. If you think he never had any detrimental effect on you, at least think of your son. How has he fared? What has the agent ever taught him of consistency? Of discipline?"
"Wynston holds to his principles."
"As interpreted by him alone at his whim."
"Who led you to that conclusion? Cole?" Cole, who so much loved to talk to Quinn.
"He only answered the questions I asked, my lord. Do not lay blame on him."
"I wasn't going to blame him," she hissed. "Stop turning him against my lover. The man I love."
"That is a dangerous word at a time like this." He finished with her arm and stepped back, pointing toward a box of wipes rather than seeking to finish cleaning her wounds himself. "If you wish to remain capable of functioning, it's time you dropped your attachment to someone who has done nothing but drag you down."
"You would know all about that, wouldn't you?" She didn't wait for an answer. She didn't just leave, even though she should. "It turns out I can't just switch off heartbreak. Knowing I didn't have a choice doesn't comfort me as easily as it did you, so don't start. You're here for the mission, like you always were. Stick to the mission."
"You will face extraordinary difficulty in carrying out the mission while that weight is upon you, as I believe was just demonstrated. And the weight doesn't go away on its own. Do you know how long it took to return to anything like acceptable work performance?"
"No. Tell me." This should be good. She had wondered. "Was it two hours or three?"
"Much more, my lord. At that time duty was all I had, and believe me when I say that I would not wish that solitude on anyone, not when…" He stopped, visibly attempted to gather himself. "If you let yourself doubt your actions, it will drive you mad."
"I'd rather be mad than be…" The look on his face stopped her from saying 'you.' She probably should have said it anyway. "What you were."
"Then should I apologize, my lord?" He met her eyes for only a moment before he turned away.
There was a long moment of quiet.
"What difference would it make?" he said. "I should have prevented it. I should have ensured that the need never came up. But my counsel failed, my predictions failed, my negotiations with Baras failed, and finally attending to the order that was given was merely the inevitable conclusion of every failure I had towards you." Another pause. "For that I apologize."
How could he sound so sad over something he had chosen? "You could have stopped."
"No, we couldn't." He turned back to her, pain etched across his face as the clear sharp source of the lines that had permanently set there. "That's the point. Guilty or not, you had to go through with it. All I can do is assure you that you, at least, were in the right, and if you cannot forgive yourself for having no choice, you must at least believe that you took the correct action. At least for you, you're better off without him. At least he is beneath you."
"You keep saying that. You're wrong."
His eyes flashed cold. "Do you think he misses you? Do you think he knows how? What comfort is he seeking right now, my lord, and with whom?"
Anyone. Ruth would never know. And it wasn't for work's sake this time. "It's natural to seek comfort after a hit like that," she said miserably. "Believe me."
"I see. And for you? What must happen when there is none to be had?"
"You are not recommending yourself."
"Not like that. I recognize that I destroyed that a long time ago. Nevertheless something must be done if you are to keep going. I hope you will accept my sympathy. And my advice."
"No, thank you." She slid off the table and touched her still-tender side. "Are we done here?"
"Yes, my lord," he said. And, resignedly, as his eyes skipped to her side and her arm, "You'll be fine."
She scowled. "Thanks for patching me up. I'm glad your current orders have you doing that instead of the other thing." Ruth walked out.
Still, his words stayed with her.
One on one they're not likely to get along. Just saying. But the lady's got a wound in need of some major disinfecting, so…what else are you going to do? Leave well enough alone? Nah.
"If you let yourself doubt your actions it will drive you mad" is, for Quinn, a pivotal line.
Rapid-fire alternation between the scenarios they're talking about unfortunately blocks any chance to focus on the real Wynston problem, namely, the Emperor. Keep her off balance, keep her off target…or, to look at it another way, use those same words to keep her off fruitless second-guessing and talk her out of destructive temptations. One or the other.
L + 15 years 8 days, part 2: Wynston looks ahead
Orphea looked in the mirror. She considered lowering the disguise for a moment, but she didn't really want to see Wynston. Sometimes that kind of check was reassuring. Sometimes it wasn't.
She also considered lowering the disguise away from the mirror. There were those aboard the
who had made it clear that they wouldn't mind discovering and assisting a breakdown in Agent Wynston's self-control. Anything would be better than being stuck here waiting.
No word on the location of the Emperor's true form. No use attacking the Voice in its own location if it just meant that a new Voice would be made somewhere new, somewhere unknown. No safe way to contact Ruth; even a holomessage might be vulnerable to her tracing efforts, or those of her keepers. At least she wasn't pushing as hard as she might. She wasn't cutting through Orphea's people to get to Wynston.
That's what Orphea had for optimism.
Ruth had been cooperative, at least, about Larr Gith. More than Orphea might have managed, stressed as she was, as the target of that level of cattiness. Ruth was cooperative. She trusted Jaesa and Orphea's word, she knew control was happening, and she didn't want it. If she knew the rest she would be with them in an instant.
If she could know the rest, if she had that security in her own mind, she could be with them.
Orphea was used to adjusting systems and waiting for the desired result, but she usually had something to do while she was at it. She kept up with some administrative matters, moved here and there to make sure Scourge and Larr Gith didn't absolutely expect her presence at all times between field assignments, but her heart wasn't in any of it. Ruth and Cole were alone in enemy territory and Orphea couldn't do a thing about it.
Once Ruth could join the fight it would be different. They had done more than a few brief joint ops in the past, enough to know how well they worked together. When Ruth had an effective shield against the Emperor's questioning she could finally see the
, know all the details Orphea had had to adjust or elide when talking about her work in the past. The precautions taken because an independent guardian of the Empire's people might not always be looked upon kindly by the master of the Sith.
Orphea could drop all that. Ruth could know, and she would love the resulting work. Cole would enjoy touring the
And the future, the moment Ruth became an independent agent, could be so much better.
Wynston could face Ruth. Thinking about her attack hurt at a visceral level he couldn't overcome by himself, but being with her would banish all that to irrelevance. And then…Ruth had offered, so many times, to let him stay with her. He couldn't be bound to service with one master and one blunt mission like she was. But if her master were gone, her mission statement newly flexible, there was a chance she would be willing to come with him.
Operating with a close partner was a wholly different experience. A different rhythm, a different set of considerations. How much more so, he thought, if it were a romantic partner he could trust. It might not necessarily feel stifling, not with her. If Ruth were willing, if she wanted to come with him…
First things first.
No word on the location of the Emperor's true form. No use attacking the Voice in its own location if it just meant that a new Voice would be made somewhere new, somewhere unknown. No safe way to contact Ruth. Nothing either of them could do right this minute. Stars, he wanted this to unfold right.
Wynston took out his vibroknife, a compact hilt with a thin double-edged blade. Ambiguous make, no distinctive markings, no serial number; an expensive internal generator made its active mode silent, but otherwise it was utterly unremarkable. Which was the point. Ruth had taken a playful delight in giving him the most completely generic gift he could use. It was the sort of thing he could afford to keep with him on all jobs.
She had told him, when she gave it to him years ago, that she didn't mind him losing it; that sort of thing happened in an active career. Something about the way she'd said it made it twice as valuable. He had done some highly inadvisable things in the past to preserve and retrieve it, to make sure it always made it home.
Wynston turned the blade over in his hands.
Don't give up,
Wherever you are. There is always a choice, darling. If you don't see one, you make one. And if they try to take yours away I'll bring you whatever it takes to prove them wrong.
Seriously, gift buying for men with this lifestyle? Has to be hell.
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