Lodestone: A Wynston/Ruth Alternate Universe
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01.31.2013 , 07:19 PM |
Random stuff, roughly six and a half years into the alt timeline:
Cole was sleeping peacefully, the house was quiet, and Ruth and Wynston were in bed, idly talking.
"What sort of places did you live growing up, anyway?" Ruth asked.
"I've told you, sweet. I'm from a mining colony on Rentor. I left for a small city on Atalan VII with my parents when I was ten. I moved on to Dromund Kaas alone about a year after that."
"Why didn't they come with you?"
He shrugged. "They didn't want to."
She stroked his hair. "I'm curious. You know all about my family, my home growing up."
He smiled and turned his head to kiss her wrist. "I like your story much more than mine."
There were some subjects he avoided by almost invisibly redirecting the conversation, and some he avoided by playing noncommittal for quite some time while he worked to find a smooth way to deflect the whole matter. He had done it with this in particular before. She pushed on. "The three-sentence summary is all I've heard of your early life, ever. Every time the subject's come up."
"Yes. I'm not sure you truly know what you're asking, sweet."
"I'm asking about you. Can I do that?"
"Of course you can." He was casual now, clearly trying to relax. He took a deep breath. "Ask away."
"Why did your parents send you to Dromund Kaas alone?"
"They didn't send me. I left. They were happy to get jobs on Atalan; I don't think they could afford to take all of us any further anyway."
"'All of you'? Was it more than just you and your parents?"
"I had two sisters. And, at that point, two surviving brothers."
Ruth gaped. "You have siblings?"
"Yes. I never saw them after I joined Intelligence."
"And you never thought to mention them?"
"Darling, I would deny having parents, too, if I thought any questioners would believe me."
She knew he wasn't joking. "But why?"
"I left that life."
"Well," he said. He took a moment to gather his thoughts. She listened closely. "For one thing," he said, "the family name was an impediment. Chiss society is rigidly structured, and a hereditary laborer family doesn't buy you much." He sat up, leaving a sudden unpleasant rush of cold air in his wake, and rested his forearms on his knees. "I think this ties into something you've wondered numerous times in the past, which is why I so easily accept being treated like 'alien scum' here in the Empire. The answer is that I will take the treatment an Imperial affords an alien over the career options available to a Chiss citizen, and the treatment a respectable Chiss affords a near-casteless countryman, any day. At least it's possible to earn the Imperial's respect through my own actions."
In a way there was more bitterness in that matter-of-factness than he had expressed in any regular frustration. "Oh," she said weakly. "I never knew."
"Of course you didn't, I never told you. But you wonder. I answer."
She sat up to lean in and kiss him, a slow and gentle kiss. He didn't want to keep talking, but she wanted to know. There would be time for silence when he went away for work again; for now, she wanted him talking. "Was it really very bad on Rentor?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Not in the ways you think. The absence of social mobility was not an everyday concern."
She fell back to rest on her side. "Tell me about it."
"Well, the colony was on an iceberg – that's most of what Rentor is, ocean and icebergs. There are mineral deposits in a number of them. I worked in an aphosite mine there."
"Worked? You were ten. Even for a Chiss that's young."
"Yes, it is. The whole family worked; I started in the mines when I was seven. Being a child was an advantage. I'm smaller than the average human; I'm tiny among Chiss. As a boy I was the best there was at placing probes and extracting rocks in crevices where even our droids couldn't operate well."
Professional pride. Recalling, from being seven years old, professional pride. That was Wynston. "Mm," she said affectionately. "You're sneaky."
"I am. I always was. Mining had its advantages. It was very good preparation for the less glamorous physical work I do. For one thing it got me into superb physical conditioning, in spite of the suboptimal nutrition. For another it gave a thorough practical education. When you work down there you learn not to be afraid of the dark or of enclosed spaces. You stop minding dirt. You develop a hell of a work ethic."
His smile was thoughtful and weak now, his red eyes diffuse as he looked somewhere past her. "You learn not to mind temperature conditions. In the upper chambers you have to keep moving or the cold will kill you; down below it gets humid and hot and you have to keep moving anyway. You learn to pick out very fine sensory distinctions – the smell that'll kill you, the distant whistle that'll let you go home. You learn that there are subtleties even in a blind world that's closed to an inch around you on every side, and knowing those subtleties completely is what determines whether you'll get out in one piece.
"You learn the necessity of order and regulations. You learn teamwork and communication in an extremely concrete sense, and you learn to work with care. You keep the mine shaft clear and correctly supported or people die. You keep fires from breaking out, or people die. You keep the equipment and gas sensors working, or people die. You prioritize doing the job over casting blame when accidents and mistakes happen, or people die. Then you learn that even if you do get everything right, life is short." He paused, clasping his hands tightly. "At the same time, you learn that the quota doesn't lessen any just because things went wrong or someone around you failed or you're hurt. There are consequences for slowing down. The mission goes on; you keep moving. And you are always ready to work in the morning." He closed his eyes. "There is never an excuse for not being ready to work in the morning."
When he didn't say anything else, Ruth slipped her arms around him and pulled him close, kissing his hair. She heard a little smile in his voice when he spoke again. "The Empire was a step up," he said nonchalantly.
"Hm," she said, trying to think of something comforting, or at least lighthearted. "Even with all the awful Sith running around?"
"Especially with certain Sith running around." He turned a little to meet her compassionate concern with a smile. "We all have to come from somewhere, darling. My particular background had the advantage of making me a brilliant worker who is very, very grateful to be doing the work I do.
"That's the great part. There is opportunity here, and was, even for an alien. If you're clever and determined, if you catch the right eye, you can make something of yourself in the Empire. Merit earns you something once you figure out where to apply it." His expression lit up as he held her gaze. "There was a great deal I never saw before I came to Dromund Kaas. I don't just mean Intelligence training. Simply socializing with strangers from all walks of life. I like that part; people are much more interesting than even the most nuanced of rocks. And then there are simple things like sheltering in a clean, well-lighted place after a challenging day. Civilization, Ruth, and all the marvels I could talk my way into. Do you understand now why I'm so passionate about it?"
She took his hand and kissed it. "Much more than I did before." Not that his enthusiasm for the Empire had been a problem to begin with. It was one of the things she loved about him.
"And then, as if life weren't promising enough already, I met you." He pushed her down to the mattress and warmed into a much happier smile. "Why would I ever dwell on where I came from, when I have this now?"
She was a little glad, a little troubled. "Don't you ever think your family might like to know about your success?" Even knowing the least highly classified tenth of his accomplishments would make them proud.
His smile vanished. "No." Then, after a moment's hesitation, "Ruth, blood matters to you because yours was kind. I don't miss mine, nor do they have any valid claim on me. My name is Wynston. I am an Imperial. That's all."
"Did you have another name?" she asked softly.
It was rare for him to make that plea. Ruth stayed quiet.
"My name is Wynston," he repeated. "That's the name I made, the one I've earned. I've thought about leaving even that behind, but I can't be just a Cipher to you. So I'm Wynston. And if I sprang out of thin air twenty-two years ago…forgive me, darling, but I'd rather keep it that way."
She drew him down to rest against her and wrapped her arms tightly around him. "All right," she said. "I…thank you, for telling me all this. I love you. Who you are now, and who you were before."
"Of course you…" he paused, and when he spoke again he was quieter, less dismissive. Just as warm. "I know you do. That's just another thing I could never have imagined back then." He kissed her softly. "When I tell you how remarkable your love is? The cynical definitions I knew were learned via political training and, perhaps, jaundiced observation; prior to that I had seen precisely zero examples of any other definition. You were and are utterly unique in my experience." He kissed her again, then tucked his head under her chin and relaxed. "How is it you get me to talk this much?"
"I'm a master interrogator, love."
"No, you're not. You ask nicely."
"And then you tell me things. It counts."
He chuckled. "I love you."
"And you came a very, very long way to tell me so." She nuzzled his hair. "I'm glad you did."
He broke once more into a bright irresistible smile. "So am I."
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