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Posted on Wed Aug 31st, 2022 @ 10:29pm by Addy Stone & Quinlan Barrett Poe
Edited on on Wed Aug 31st, 2022 @ 10:30pm

Mission: The Xiao Jin Chronicles
Location: Xiao Jin, Dining Room
Timeline: Mission Day 40 at 0700

Bleary-eyed and wobbly Addy emerged from her room and made her way to the kitchen. She knew it was early, but not so early that there could be no one about. Ship was too small to ever get truly alone outside of your room. She'd promised Peter and Juliet, though. Promised she would get up. That she would get dressed and eat breakfast and find her way to the engine room.

A shower too, she thought. She needed a shower.

It had been three days since she made an impossible decision and in doing so lost everything that mattered. Not everything, she told herself. Peter. Juliet. Gary. Lori Jo. She repeated their names like a mantra. Like a prayer. She'd saved them. Or at least deflected the worst. They hadn't come through entirely unscathed. Lori Jo was crying herself to sleep each night and waking up screaming from night terrors. Gary was angry. At her. At Peter. At Quinn and at their parents. At Matthias Stone more than anyone else. For all 14 of his years he spoke like he was older, making cryptic comments that implied a deep rooted desire for vengeance.

Juliet and Peter were more complicated. Peter was quiet about what he battled, but she could see it in his eyes. He had sunk himself, instead, into being her caretaker and had enlisted Juliet for help. The two came and went from her room without a thought, coaxing her out of bed. To eat. To drink. They took turns holding her while she sobbed and, eventually, delivered the ultimatum together that she return to a routine.

Juliet, she learned, lived her averted fate vicariously through her older sister. Something that Addy knew would need a gentle sisterly discussion soon.

Now, though, she wanted coffee. Coffee and a shower.

[In Poe’s Quarters]

His room had been stripped down. Addy’s blanket and plant had been returned to her when he’d finally made it back to his room. The stripping now was taking down all of his possessions and packing them into a large crate which Li Huan’s family would watch over once they docked on Persephone. That was when he put his plan into effect.

He had spent the last few days making arrangements. Calling old friends, asking questions, figuring out what needed to be done and how. That had taken a long while to figure out because he was new to this sort of thing or at least he thought he was. The more he dug into it, the more he discovered the similarities to what he’d done during the war. Talking to an old friend who did investigative work helped even more. And after that, things started moving a lot faster.

All that was left was to talk to Addy about it all. And yes, if he was being honest with himself, he had put that part off. To let the pain of it all burn away. Give himself a chance to understand his own feelings and what he wanted going forward. Now, what she wanted, well, that was a different story entirely. Either way, he could help get them all settled and safe. That wasn’t nothing.

[The Kitchen]

Grudgingly, Addy had to admit that even this tiny step back towards normal helped. She sat at the table, small bowl of gummy rice in front of her, a mug of coffee clutched in one hand. She tugged some rice clear of her spoon scraping with her teeth to loose the sticky bits before swallowing. It was mostly tasteless, but it was filling and after three days of eating little her stomach proclaimed it the best thing she'd ever tasted. The coffee was too and that brought life back to her as much as the food.

Coffee. She'd wanted to talk to Henry about that dream. To see if he could point her to some before they left. She'd intended to get some for Quinn… Poe… the Captain… as a gift. A luxury to have extra and any if a particularly good variety. She sighed and lifted the mug to her mouth as the gaping hole that only he filled howled open at the simple, almost habitual, thought of him. Skies, she missed him in a way she hadn't known was possible and he was on the same ship.

On the first afternoon Peter had descended her ladder with her green blanket and grass and she'd wanted to collapse in on herself. The blanket smelled just a bit like him and she'd selfishly wrapped herself in it, unable to completely let go.

She was staring into her dish of rice she realized. So lost in thought that she wasn't even sure how much time she had lost. Seconds? Minutes?

He entered the kitchen and ignored the rice in favor of a good cup of tea. Thankfully, there was enough of that to see them all through the trip. Sugar was already running low but that had never been a necessity for him and even if it was, he would have left it for the Weysmiths. He poured himself a cup and headed toward the table, surprised to see Addy sitting there.

“Got some things to talk over with you,” he said as he found himself a seat at the table, both hands wrapped around his cup. “If you have the time that is.”

It was such a normal thing for him to say that for a moment she gaped at him. Only for a moment though and then everything crashed down on her head and she dropped her eyes, guilt roiling in her belly, and nodded.

"Of course," she said. "Plans need making. I…" she paused, not sure what she was going to say. She'd been unable to see beyond her room for three days? No, he didn't want to hear that. She'd been burden enough as is. "I'm free now," she ventured quietly. "Or whenever you would like me to be."

“Seems to me that his plan was pretty slick,” Poe said quietly. “Combination of high pressure sales tactics and choosing as his target, someone like your father who doesn’t have great business sense to begin with. I have the notion that it wasn’t his first time. Maybe he’s done something like this before. Maybe more than once because it takes experience to make it work.”

She chanced a glance at him, confused. Did he mean Matthias's plan? He'd been clear that night. Or she thought he had. The fault was hers. Now, though, her memory of the conversation was muddled. Maybe he hadn't said that. Maybe she'd just believed it. Still believed it. "He was very convincing," she agreed tentatively. "And his muscle was well trained. They took me in public and I couldn't get off so much as a shout."

“I mean to go after him,” Poe said. “Figure him out, see if there’s more to this, the way I believe. That’s going to take some time and I’ll need to be off ship for a while. Weeks. Maybe even months. Because I have to do this quiet-like. Get to the information before he’s got a chance to bury it where I’ll never find it.”

She shook her head, not able to reconcile what he was saying. "I don't understand," she said and as she said it her voice broke. "You can be rid of us on Persephone. You can be free of it. It's… it's my responsibility. Mine to bear." She was rambling, but she didn't seem to know how to stop. "I left them behind. I…It's.." She stammered to a halt staring at him like he'd grown a second head. "I failed you."

“You didn’t trust me,” Poe said. “That’s not exactly the same thing and I won’t lie, it hurt me to discover you were married and all the documents signed without even giving me a chance to help, to be there for you. But get rid of you? Where does that come from? Do you still not trust me to take care of you? To make all this right again?”

"I do trust you," she said in a small voice. "I trusted you then too. I just couldn't make the math right in my head. He had all of them right there. If I left and took Juliet and Peter with me… I didn't know what he might do to Gary… to Lori Jo. All I could think about was how to get out of there without losing anyone. And… and doing that… once it was done…" Her eyes were welling and she stopped. "I reckon I've lost you. So I just don't know why you would want to."

"Don't know what you mean by loving someone, but for me," Poe said. "It's a permanent thing. I waited all those years for you to come. What makes you think a snake like Matthias Stone would change anything about how I feel? Don't be an idiot. Time to get up off the mat and start fighting back. Or did you want me to build you a cross in the cargo bay so you can be a proper martyr?"

He might just as well have slapped her. That… that was the thing she remembered from that night. That he’d accused her of being a martyr… of being what her Daddy had made her.

“I,” she began, eyes flashing now despite the tears that still lingered, “am not… a martyr.” She practically spat the statement, hot frustrated anger building as she focused in on the word. “I’ve loved you for ten gorram years. Ten. And all but two weeks of that was people telling me you didn’t want me. Was waiting. Desperate to hear from you and not getting a word. I know what happened now, but damn it Quinn, where do you get off thinking that… that… that I just assume you love me? I didn’t come find you because I thought you wanted me. I came to find you because I wanted you. I’d no notion you’d actually want me after that long. None. Four days ago you told me you loved me and I’m still spinning over the thought that maybe… just maybe that’s true. In what reality should I have thought that doing what I’ve done wouldn’t lose me that love? Tell me that? Explain… That.”

She was glaring at him now and somewhere in the middle of that rant she’d straightened in her chair, leaning toward him, palms set down on the table like she was about to stand.

Seeing anger rekindle the fire in her eyes was a pleasing sight though he couldn't for the life of him understand how she could doubt him. Cursed words, he thought. Really got to learn how to use them some day since apparently folks got to actually hear something to believe it's real. Not that they ever say anything but lies back.

And while that was going through his head, while she was glaring at him, he was smiling at her. "Always loved you," he said. "Never been a question about that." He shrugged lightly. "People lie. They say stuff all the time that they don't mean, that isn't true. I've always preferred to let my actions speak for me. I waited. No letters. No word. For all I knew you were married with ten kids. I didn't know. I still waited. Year in, year out. Preparing for you. And there were more than a few folk who said I was crazy to do so. Didn't listen to any of them." He leaned forward, still smiling, and said, "So tell me, Addy, how does it feel? Standing up again? Ready to get back in the fight?"

For all the world she wanted to smack that damned smile off his face. But it was his smile. And it was turned on her. And it wasn’t some small half thing. It was a real true smile. And that alone was enough to reignite the tiny spark of hope she’d so deeply thought was gone. She leaned back in her chair, hand coming to her hair and raking through it as she shook her head. “Quinlan Barrett Poe, I don’t know if I should scream at you or kiss you right now.”

“Screaming is probably better … for now,” Poe said. “We have to keep up appearances. I’m too wounded to be around you and you’re being the dutiful wife. Put up a good front for Matthias while I go hunting.” Poe’s smile turned predatory. “I mean to bring him down. See him behind bars and all.”

She eyed him, tempted to continue down the angry defiant road and insist that if he wouldn’t kiss her there that she’d happily find him someplace he could do it because appearances be damned. And she did want to kiss him. Or at least hug him. Or something. Anything after days of thinking he’d never so much as touch her again. Of thinking the only touch she’d ever have was Matthias’s rough hands taking and giving nothing in return. Her expression shuttered for a moment as that thought ran through her and she shivered despite herself. Quinn may still love her, but it was going to take some doing to work back up to… that.

“We have six months,” she told him finally when she managed to squash the memory of that act. “He expects me back in six months to… to…” She couldn’t say it. Couldn’t keep it tamped down long enough, though she was angry now and that was a powerful thing. “I don’t want him to ever touch me again,” she said, voice low and deadly calm. “He isn’t ever going to touch me again.”

“You’re right about that,” Poe said. So, we pretend because I ain't exactly loved by this crew. And maybe I'm not a good choice for Captain, seeing as how those I hire always seem to think the worst of me. That's why we have to be careful. Who knows what they'd say in return for a bit of coin, a promise of a better position. And that brings me to the other thing."

"Your family needs a place to be. Now, they could take a chance on that land you inherited but I was thinking that if you sell it, you could use the funds to set them up properly on Deadwood. I own land there. Two parcels. Both need work. One was my Daddy's place and it’s a pure miracle that he didn't sell it off for a bottle of whiskey but that's neither here nor there. The other is my grandfather's place. I'd be willing to sell Peter my Daddy's parcel if he was interested. It’s good land, hardly worked. He could pay for it a little out of time, out of his profits, and use the money from the sale of your inherited land to build up the place. My grandfather's ranch isn't far away but that will never be for sale. I mean to settle there. Hope that one day we can settle there."

“Quinn,” she breathed as he said it. “Oh Quinn.” The hope was a flame now, verging on inferno. “Skies, I love you.”

“Never was any doubt about that neither,” Poe said. He looked around, made sure no one was listening, and then flashed her a quick smile before settling his face back into a more serious, neutral expression.


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