Lodestone: A Wynston/Ruth Alternate Universe
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03.14.2013 , 11:38 PM |
Another burst of AU crossposts. I have new brooding after that, to come in a separate post.
L + 3ish years: Memories of Coruscant
"Tell me about Coruscant."
"Hm?" said Wynston. "I think he's asleep." He nodded down at the chubby toddler in his arms who had been holding his attention. "What was it you were asking?"
Ruth slouched further into the armchair opposite him and tilted her head. "Tell me about Coruscant. You were there, weren't you? When the first war ended?"
"I was well away before the Sith hit the ground, but I did spend several months laying groundwork beforehand. I was new in the service back then, but at the time they didn't have enough agents fluent in Cheunh to be picky for certain tasks. So yes, I was there for a little while, and I've been back once or twice for brief visits since then."
"What's it like?"
"Smaller than you might expect given its raw population. It's just that it's a hundred layers deep. She's a marvel of engineering – old planned areas, new planned areas, old I can't say with any confidence that the original owners put a moment's thought into it but they have since been repurposed into something very clever areas. And everywhere, all the time, there are people. Hundreds of billions of people from all over the galaxy. She's got species the Empire has yet to discover selling news flimsis on the street corner. Coruscant suffers badly from corruption and mismanagement, but there's much more of good than of mess about her. If she were Imperial she'd be perfect."
"From you, that's high praise."
"I liked the place." He smiled absently. "To put it in symbolic terms she is very much the living, sentient-made heart of tens of thousands of years of civilization. I couldn't invent any greater victory than to make us the ones to build on her legacy. We should be the ones who do." He lapsed into silence.
The Chiss resummoned his smile. "That's the difficult part. I don't like to dwell on what's done, Ruth, but we had her. The damage was horrific, and completely securing the surface would have been more so, but it would have ended the war, not just paused it. All that's left would've been cleanup, and I can manage matters like that. Think how many lives would have been saved if we'd just pressed the advantage to break the Republic's government that day. But we didn't. After all we did to get there Coruscant is the one that got away, and no Imperial who ever met her can forget that." His gaze sharpened. "If your employer ever tells you why he ordered the Empire to stand down, let me know."
"I will. I never realized you felt this strongly about it."
"Ask any veteran. I'm not even a real veteran, I’m just a spook who happened to be around for part of it, and it's still hard to forget Coruscant." He relaxed a little. "You would like the planet very much, anyway. The tech, the people. Traffic spinning like three Nar Shaddaa skylines colliding at any given time."
"A completely artificial planet must be your dream," she teased.
He returned her grin. "Like I said, if she were Imperial she'd be perfect. They tell me there's original dirt somewhere in the middle of all that, but they keep it well hidden. They still do have gardens, for what it's worth. Indoor complexes, entire artificial forests on some levels. – That's what you're actually after, isn't it? I just can't take you anywhere without flowers."
"That's a preference, not a requirement. It's just that the day job rarely sends me anywhere pretty."
"Then I'll find you gardens when we go to finish the war. I bet there are some on the surface, even, complete with real sunlight. Something fit for a new territory's queen."
"A queen, am I? I'd be a pretty bad one."
"I've seen worse." Colrand was squirming in Wynston's arms; Wynston raised the toddler to eye level and asked earnestly, "What would you think of your mother establishing a monarchy?"
Colrand crowed and threw a punch at Wynston's nose. The Emperor's Wrath dissolved into giggles. Wynston snorted and launched a flurrying counterattack of tickles against the cheerful aggressor, who did not in any way change his opinion.
L + 3 years 2 months: Alternate perspectives, prepping for a mission
Hyperspace always felt like dead time. With limited comms and only rare company, Wynston spent most of this time reflecting on mission analysis. Or just watching hyperspace, one of the commonest, most mundane views in the galaxy but one that few people appreciated for what it was – the hidden underpinnings of the galaxy made visible. Inner workings given use and meaning by sentient ingenuity. A tool was only as good as the use it was put to; in his career, hyperspace travel was a good one.
And nice enough to look at. What's better is that I'll see Ruth when I get there. A little work for mercy's sake and for strategic reasons I'm not free to explain, but I'm doing the right thing with them. If we tie this task up early I can probably come back to Dromund Kaas with her for a while. It's been a few months now. I wonder how Cole's doing?
Cole. I still think it beggars belief that such a father as Malavai Quinn could have produced such an adorable son. Then again, he's Ruth's, too. Hard to turn out wrong with her there. Stars, they're wonderful together.
I'll definitely arrange to go with her after this.
There's a child there I can come home to. He knows me. In his rowdy way, he likes me. I like him. I have this, and a woman who wants me, whom I want, not just because she's there. A woman I think of after I leave, one I go out of my way to come back to. She welcomes me, even when I'm tired and can't give her the image she wants. She trusts me. She loves me so much it hurts. This is what a family is supposed to be like, and every time I turn around it's still there.
Wynston stared out into hyperspace for several long minutes.
What the hell am I doing?
This isn't my specialty. I'm not the man who does this, I never was. My work is what matters. That's the only skill set I've ever maintained, the only one I ever had any talent with. This, what I feel for her, it's one long delirious fluke.
I should have stopped it at sex. And maybe the professional alliance. The friendship, and admiration, and common aspirations and more…I don't have the substance for those things. She's tried hard to tease some realness out from under my fakery but there's nothing there. The only thing that makes me useful is adapting to be the temporary measure that adjusts a situation and then vanishes.
I was glad to go to her on Corellia but I should have stayed away after. I helped her through the hard part, helped her get back on her feet and remove her enemies. Now I have nothing more to offer her. That's why I'm away working nine weeks out of ten and why I ought to be away the tenth. If I really had half the decency I pretend to I would just end this and let her forget me. Let her love someone who can commit to her and her alone.
Would she come with me if I asked her? Leave the master I can't serve, come make some kind of life with me? But she can't. Even she wouldn't survive saying no to the Emperor. And she does so much good even with her current job, sometimes almost in spite of her current job. The Wrath as a warrior of protection is a force I could never have imagined when I first started in this business; she has made it hers and she's perfect at it. Besides, my organization is all about skulking in the shadows. It's no place for her light or her child.
And, if she had to see me all the time, then for all her patience she would tire of me. Worse, I might tire of her. That's what I do. Get bored, stop caring, walk away. I saw her heart broken once; I can't let it happen again. I won't be the one to disappoint her.
But that will happen either way, won't it? And if we're to be separated I don't have to be so blunt as to just abandon her. She'll give up on me anyway under the conditions I've set. Merely the difference between fast heartbreak and slow, maybe, but it'll be easier for her if she comes to the decision herself. I can't give her what she needs: constant companionship, complete unity of purpose instead of the game of shadows we play on those occasions when even she can't quite reconcile her employer's Sith orders with the people's interest. Personal openness – I try for her sake but let's be realistic, this is me, the opportune lie will always be my first instinct – and then physical fidelity, and a real father for her son. A genetically compatible father for more children. She would like that.
I'd like to be that.
She never counted the advantages she might or mightn't get from me, but she does always insist on the truth. The relevant truth is this: she deserves all these things, every possible good thing, and I can't give them to her. I won't abandon my work, I made that clear from the start. She has held on for a long time, but sooner or later she'll accept that and find a better man. A decent Sith who can at least match her in power, or a servant who can match her in dedication, or somebody.
It's for the best. And it can be done without my just walking up to her and breaking it off suddenly enough to wound her again. I don't have to be cruel to lose her. I just have to be myself.
She'll come to that conclusion in her own time. I can stay for a few days anyway. I've missed Cole. I've missed her. Being with them makes everything ten times better. And she does like seeing me. Just as long as I don't make promises I can't keep, it'll be all right to let this go on. But wishing things were different, wishing I could stay for her to wake up beside me morning after morning without interruption or end, so I could give her something worth calling…something worth calling…
Bloody hell. I have a job to do.
Wynston consciously suppressed the smile that snuck up any time he was thinking of Ruth, even during these familiar, somehow perpetually postponed worries. He reeled back toward analyzing the dynamics surrounding the Czerka strike he had planned. Before him rolled the hectic brilliance of hyperspace, and whether he let himself think it or not, it was doubly beautiful because it was taking him to her.
Ruth meditated alongside Jaesa on the way to the rendezvous point. Jaesa was establishing her own household back on Dromund Kaas nowadays, but she still came out for some missions, and Ruth was glad for the company.
Half of Ruth's meditations weren't really communion with the Force at all. Just quiet times to think. She was going to see Wynston, and it was hard to keep anything else on her mind.
It's been a few months. The time flies, with Cole, with my friends, with everything. It'll be good to accomplish something with Wynston; it always is. Maybe he can come stay with me for a few days once the job's done. Obviously we both have things to do. His work is important. So is mine; I can't just walk away from my job. But everything's ten times better when we can arrange to be together.
I won't trouble him with the words, but he must know by now that I love him. I've tried not to, for his sake. It wasn't supposed to happen. We were just friends. And allies. And lovers. With common goals and tastes and other things. And if he thinks I could have all this and see so much of his character and not love him, that's…very much a blind spot he would have, actually. Given the relationships we were staggering out of on Corellia I can't blame him for being wary of the word. It never did either of us any good.
In theory, even leaving love aside, I shouldn't trust him for such on-faith-alone gestures as this matter I'm helping with now. Don't trust: that's the chorus of being Sith, isn't it? Of having any kind of power. I tried to ignore that condition once and it failed, spectacularly. And yet, Wynston knows that influence is the currency of my world and he doesn't try to deal in it, not with me. It is such a relief to come home and be no one but myself, with someone who is no one but himself. Maybe it's unfair of me to ask him to do that, but he's worth knowing like this. I'm not sure when he'll figure out that he doesn't have to be useful for me to want him. He just has to be himself.
I've missed him. I wonder what his schedule looks like…at best we'll have a few weeks before he leaves again. The job needs him. He has his work, his secrets, the ones that do and must exist entirely outside my role as Wrath under a dark Sith. I understand that. And admire his courage in doing it. Could I even care for him this much if he weren't committed to something greater than himself? If he weren't, he wouldn't be him.
Still. Sometimes it seems like duty in the Empire exists for nothing other than to drive people apart.
Well, I can hope the Empire can spare him for a few days. Cole will be glad to see him. I was so afraid at first that he would hate Cole because of his father, but he doesn't. Wynston is so affectionate, so happy, around my son…he would've made a better father in every way. If it were possible I would ask someday about…
No. Even if we could, Wynston wouldn't want a family. He can't be tied too closely to one place. That he even comes back to me is more, I think, than he's ever attempted with anyone.
For that I'm the luckiest woman alive.
I can tell part of him wants to stay, every time I offer. He'll only turn me down again if I ask. I know he doesn't want to get too close to the Emperor's service, but we're both resourceful people, surely we could work something out. I'll respect his wishes, always, but…I have to wonder, sometimes. Is it that there's something else for him? Is it that there's someone else? A lot of someones I can ignore, because what he offers them during a job isn't the man he is with me and can't possibly be the depth I adore, but one…one would hurt.
He told me that's not the case. I believe him. He works hard to keep nothing but truth between us, in this, in everything. I'm not sure he has any idea how important that is to me. Just as long as he keeps being honest, as long as that look in his eyes when he comes to me is genuine, it's enough.
In fact the distance is easier in some ways. I work my work without having to slow down for a Force-blind – he's worth all the galaxy and more, but there are physical limits to what he can do – and I can have tired irritable off days without inflicting them on him. I'm not sure how much he would like me if he had to see me all the time. I worry for him, but at the same time he's safer from some things when he isn't near me. The target my enemies have to fire at is smaller when he's far away.
So he's out there instead. A cynic could say he's out there lying, killing, bedding strangers, flipping through deceits like some people flip through their wardrobes in the morning. He admits all of that freely. He isn't sorry for it. If there were ever a kind of man I shouldn't be with it's this.
Is there something I'm supposed to prefer? They don't make squeaky-clean innocents in this galaxy and I'm not sure I would know what to do with one. So should I seek a Sith who'll play the miserable power games I remember from Korriban? Or an agent who never sets a toe out of line, one so blindly obedient that any suitably impressive authority's order might sway him? Wynston answers only to his conscience, and I trust that conscience. I have ever since the start. It's why I'm here for him today and why I'll always be here for him.
In the end I don't have to justify it. He makes me happy.
When Ruth opened her eyes Jaesa was sitting opposite her, smiling at her.
"What?" said Ruth.
"You're very emotionally loud when you're happy," said Jaesa.
Ruth made a face. It didn't quite succeed in clearing her smile or her flush. "That's allowed."
"While I take our work very seriously, you should know that half the reason I clear my schedule for these is to see the Emperor's Wrath melting when you-know-who shows up."
"One of these days you're going to meet someone, Jaesa. I'll have my revenge then."
Jaesa dimpled. "If I ever find something as sweet as you two, I don't think I'll mind."
L + 23 months: Song
Ruth was down the hall putting Cole to bed. Wynston settled in the living room to read over his correspondence and some news bulletins. One of the first items in his feed happened to be a minor news note on a direct and positive consequence of a job Ruth had completed a couple of weeks back – just the sort of thing she found encouraging when she got to hear about it. He took the excuse to freeze the display and go find her. The necessity of staying connected notwithstanding, he took every excuse he saw to bring the conversation back to her while he was in town.
He paused outside the door. Within the nursery, Ruth was singing.
Wynston shied away from interrupting; there was likely a reason she was so quiet about it. But her voice was nice. Low, smooth, without the command that habitually edged her public speaking. He was no musical expert – far from it – but he could tell she carried the melody faithfully, and the flow of it soothed.
He had known her for years, and still she surprised him.
The song ended and Wynston stepped back to wait. Ruth emerged within moments and stopped, wide-eyed, just inside the hallway.
"I never knew you sang," said Wynston.
"I don't," she said quickly. "Or not…" She blushed pink, looking as off balance as he'd ever seen her. And as lovely in embarrassment as she was anywhere else. "Just for Cole."
He stepped forward to gather her warm small hands in his. "The rest of us have been missing out, then."
She squeezed his hands, taking up some of her usual proud carriage but keeping the blush. "You really don't have to say that. This isn't my talent."
"There's enough about you to praise without exaggeration, darling, I hardly need to make things up. You have a beautiful voice."
Her smile turned definite, and she met his eyes for a surging-heart second. When she once again cast her gaze down at nothing in particular, the smile stayed. "I sang more when I was little. My father played the mandoviol, some nights he would teach me folk songs from places he'd been." Her brow and her hands contracted both at once. "It feels like a very long time ago."
He guided her hands to his chest so as to free his own arms to wrap around her. "You'll have to let me hear the start of that song sometime," he said gently.
It worked to ease her away from her discomfort. She met his eyes again. "What, the lullaby? It's really nothing special."
"I didn't recognize it. It sounded like Mirialan?" He didn't know much of the language, but the sound was right and a few words seemed familiar.
She nodded. "Yes. I don't know what the words mean. Father said there was no Basic translation that worked as a song in its own right."
Wynston nodded. The words, whatever they were, were irrelevant to her and him and the loveliness of her voice and the quiet strength of it when she was addressing her son. He kissed her cheek. "Sometime," he said softly, "before I go, I would very much like to hear the rest of it. If it's not just for Nirals, that is." Again, if he had never heard it before, there was likely a reason. Still, he was selfish enough to ask.
"If it's mine it's yours," she said. Her blush was rising again. "But I can't just launch into it. Tomorrow, when I put him to bed."
"Tomorrow, then." He kissed her nose and then shifted his embrace to turn a little. "Come with me, there's something I wanted to show you."
– 13 years later –
Wynston floated in the sole tank of a private medbay on the
. He'd been in there for two weeks now and might have to be for longer. The damage sustained in the last battle they had faced together had been close to fatal; now, slowly, he mended.
Ruth watched. Someone had set up a chair in here but she felt too tense to do anything but stand. His injuries were in part her fault. If she had done things differently he wouldn't have had to suffer this. Now he was right in front of her and she had never missed him this much in her entire life.
But he was alive, and he was close, and because of him the greater danger was past. The mission was accomplished, and the two of them were home.
Ruth set a hand on the transparisteel tank wall and sang.
It was the same simple lullaby he had asked about ages ago, its melody suited to her voice and its words soothing in their syllables. She never had gotten around to looking up what the words meant. It didn't really matter between her and him anyway.
The barely-audible hum of the monitors changed. A few life signs subtly shifted. Ruth had studied, in the last two weeks, what normal Chiss ranges were and what meant danger, but this wasn't danger. Just his heart rate stepping up a little, the way she had found it did when she sang.
She repeated the last verse just to have a little longer with him. After that…the fallout from the big battle was ongoing and she was the strongest fighter Wynston's people had in their efforts to stabilize the situation. If there was more she could do for him right now, it was out there.
"I love you," she told him. "There's work to do, but I'll come home as soon as I can."
She restored her command presence and headed out to face the galaxy. When she and Wynston were back together and whole, she wanted to have something good to show him.
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