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A Companion's Summons

Posted on Fri Sep 16th, 2022 @ 11:24pm by Quinlan Barrett Poe & Addy Stone

Mission: The Xiao Jin Chronicles
Location: Amari's Private Residence, Persephone
Timeline: Mission Day 47 at 2200

Standing here felt like deja-vu. Even though Addy had only crossed this threshold to enter Amari's home once before, the place felt burnt into her memory. Grease-stained fingers ran gently along the fine paper envelop tucked carefully into her pocket, its feminine script addressed this time to her. She'd nearly turned the boy away when he'd come up the ramp with it, assuming Amari was trying to reach Quinn and feeling gutted all over again that he was gone. But the messenger had insisted it was for her and when she'd taken it from his hand her name had been there on the envelope in Amari's curving feminine script.

Addy, please do me the honor of a visit before you leave port. Tonight at 10. I'm holding a place for you. - Amari

She'd puzzled at it, but only long enough to resolve that a friend who knew Quinn might be a welcome diversion when it felt as though everyone she loved was now scattered to the four corners of the 'Verse. For whatever it may have been worth, Captain Harrington had no qualms with her departure for the late meeting so long as she was back by the time they launched the next day.

Raising her hand to the door she rapped at the door, the sound of fisted hand on door feeling loud to her ears. Then, despite herself, she moved to smooth out her hair as if that might somehow level the obvious outward differences between the two women before Amari in her delicate beauty could open the door.

When she opened the door, dressed in a black gown with matching opera-length gloves, Amari smiled, as gracious and welcoming as ever, and stepped back far enough for Addy to enter. Her lustrous black hair was piled up on her head with tiny seed pearls inserted among the curls and a three-stranded pearl choker around her neck. "Thank you for coming," she said, in a voice that had once been described as both sensual and melodic, "at such a late hour." She gestured toward one of the chairs in the sitting area. "I'm afraid I forgot an appointment this evening." She picked up a wrap that had been artfully draped over the back of a chair and settled it around her shoulders as she spoke. "I think," she said as she raised her voice slightly, "it will only be three hours. Yes, that's about right. Three hours." There was a fire going and she gestured toward the low table that had been set with a late supper. "Enjoy your evening."

Amari was a vision in black and Addy had to look twice just to take in all of the feminine refinement. Despite herself her stomach dropped. It weren't Amari's fault that they were so different, but there was that tiny part of her that envied the woman her fine taste, soft skin, and well manicured hands. In her coveralls and boots she felt wildly underdressed, but though they'd only met once before she trusted the companion and stepped over the threshold, moving in the direction of the sitting area she'd indicated. She'd just perched on the chair, sitting near to its edge, booted feet flat on the floor, when it settled into her head that the other woman was leaving.

Confusion and surprise played out a tableau on her face as she stood to... to... to what? Protest? Amari had asked her to come. There must be some reason. Hadn't Quinn gotten a job from her once? Maybe that was it. Maybe there was more to this. Some unwritten code she was meant to know. So, even though she still didn't understand, she resumed her seat only this time with an ache the size of a cavern as she wished Quinn were there with her to help her know what she was meant to do. "Thank you Amari. I... will see you later I hope?" she said, voice tentative as she eyed the table that was clearly set for two.

"Three hours," Amari said. Her smile changed, saddened somehow. "I am sorry it can't be longer." She nodded graciously in Addy's direction and left, the scent of her perfume, a delicate floral blend custom made for her, trailing behind. The gentleman who had contracted her services for the evening was waiting outside and she offered a genuine smile to him.

As the door closed Addy resisted the urge to stand and pace. She wracked her brain trying to think of any clue Quinn might have given about what to do in a situation like this. Three hours. Did that mean she'd need to wait three hours? Or did that mean there was something she should do that might take three hours? And why had the woman been sorry about the time constraint? With a frustrated exhalation she slumped forward, elbows propped on her knees as her head dropped into her hands. She dug her fingers back through her hair as if the motion might shake loose some kind of clarity.

It was a funny thing because even though Amari was a companion and an individual in her own right, every bit of her home--the lingering perfume, the clear though understated refinement, even the tantalizing smell of the meal, screamed Quinlan Poe in her head. For good or ill the companion was inextricably linked to the man she loved and for a moment the ache that had opened up in her threated to consume her. "Skies Quinn," she whispered as if the man himself could hear her--the same man who was the 'Verse only knew where now, "how am I supposed to do this without you?"

"That's a good question," Poe said as he came into the living room from the back. He'd waited long enough to be sure that Amari and her whatever-you-call-him because date didn't seem to fit had left before making himself seen. "Been asking myself that a lot of late."

Eyes wide and red hair flying, the mechanic's head shot up, staring openly in the direction of his voice. For a moment she didn't move, too stunned at the sight of him, all long limbs and tousled hair as if he'd just run his hand through it and perfect piercing eyes that seemed to hold so much in that moment. He didn't seem real. More like she'd called him into being with her whispered desperation.

And then she was on her feet and moving, something like a sob escaping her as she rushed to him and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing as if she needed to hold tight to be sure he was really there. To be sure she wasn't imagining him. To be sure he wouldn't disappear. She buried her face in his shoulder and breathed him in and it wasn't until she pulled back to look at him that she realized she was crying--overwhelmed by the simple ability to hug him after so many days of withholding from that simple comfort.

"We don't have long," Poe said quietly, a breath of warmth, laden with love and regret, across the top of her head. "But I couldn't leave for months without saying good-bye. It's a risk, I know, but ..." His voice trailed off as held her, imprinting the memory of her body against his, into the very cells of his being, a ward against the long nights when she wouldn't ... couldn't ... be there. "That's why I've been spending time on the ramp. Figuring out when his goons are there and when they aren't. Tonight, they're off drinking because they rolled a drunk with coins in his pocket."

"We have three hours more than I ever expected to get," she said, voice rough from emotion as she spoke from where she was nestled against him. "I don't care if all we do his stand here and hold each other the whole time. You're here." She brushed aside what he'd said about the men that Matthias had, no doubt, hired to keep tabs on them; working hard not to let the way that chilled her dig deep into her bones. Watched. If they were watching the ramp what else were they watching aboard the Xiao Jin?

"Quinn," she said softly after a moment, pulling back enough that she could look up at him. His eyes were a deep blue and she caught her breath for a moment before continuing. "I love you."

"Love you too," Poe said as he swept her up into his arms. "And now," he murmured as he brushed his lips against hers, "I'm going to prove it to you."

It was no small thing that with those few words he could make her heart leap and race in turns. She met his lips with the soft press of her own, kissing him slowly, willing herself to pay attention to even the most minute details of what it felt like to be kissing him, how his hands were warm on her back and his breath was something that could only uniquely belonged to him. "Just how," she asked softly, uncertainty and shame mixing with a powerful want of what she hoped his answer would be, "do you intend to do that?"

"Amari's got a guest room," Poe said and he carried her back as though she were the most precious thing in the world to him and set her down beside a massive double bed. Clusters of candles had been placed on the nightstands, the dresser, and a low table in front of the bay windows. The warmth of their light combined with the fire burning merrily in the stone fireplace gave the room a soft and welcoming glow.

"Quinn," she whispered, feeling as if hushed voices were the only right thing as she took in the room. But even the whispering of his name held depths of meaning in it. "This... this is beautiful," she said. It was more than that. It was extravagant. This room alone felt like the most significant luxury and she could barely drag the idea that she, in her coveralls and boots with grease-stained hands, could be wanted... could belong... in a space like this.

"Are you sure?" she finally asked. It was a hard question, but she had to know. He knew what she'd done. Knew the last hands to touch her weren't his. Just the thought of it made her skin crawl and her brow furrow at the thought.

He didn't answer with words. That wasn't his strength. Her clothes were left forgotten in a pile on the hand-knotted, silk oriental intermingled with his own. He lowered her tenderly to the bed, her head resting on pristine white feather pillows, her red hair spread out around her head like an untidy crown. He answered her question with his hands, with his eyes, with his mouth. He worshipped her, claimed her, as he left the lingering memory of his touch, his kiss, on every millimeter of skin. He drove her to the height of passion and held her there for long moments before joining her in a long spiraling descent that left them both breathless.

In the aftermath she curled against him, sheltered in the strength of his arms; hid in the safety of the crook of his neck. Her lips still moved against his skin as if that part of her refused to acknowledge their descent from such dizzying heights; as if perhaps she could stop time, or steal it, so that the seconds ticking toward Amari's return might never run down. With one gentle finger she reached up to trace the fiery tattooed wheel above his heart that bore her name. It occurred to her, as she did, that in the weeks that they'd enjoyed together she'd not given him much explanation for the ink pressed into her own skin. Carefully she extricated herself from his shoulder and bent, placing reverent lips to the wound that had first brought them together, featured at the center of the wheel.

He lay quietly, resting in comfort that would not be his for a good long while, savoring this last bit of peace, of love, of home while on the mantel, time raced toward the moment of their parting.

"When I got this tattoo," she began. Her voice held the far-off pensiveness of another time as she found his free hand and brought it to the scripted black ink along her collar, "I never thought it would take on a meaning quite like this."

She quieted, but for only a moment before she continued, reciting. "God's own clock quicksand slows to an ice-whisper quiet." Her lips pressed to the u of his collar bone before she continued. "Got it as a piece of rebellion, I guess. It was how I felt at the time. Like time was threatening to stop altogether before I'd set my eyes on you again. The war was still going and I was waiting for you to write and worrying you might be dead. Daddy weren't too pleased about the tattooing. Not that he could do much once it was done. 'Sides I was an adult. Now, though..." She leaned back slightly then, shifting a bit so she could see his face. "Now I sure wish I could make them real."

He traced the lines of the tattoo with his finger as he whispered, "For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love." He pulled her close and kissed her again, filled with love and longing and parting. "It's nearly time, my love."

She shook her head, ducking back against his chest again when his lips left hers. "I'm not ready," she murmured around the chokehold of her emotions, suddenly filled with fear that this would be it--the moment that she really did lose him. She willed that fear to submission. She wouldn't doubt him. Couldn't. If anyone could right all of this, it was him.

"He slipped out of the bed and dressed quickly, his gaze hugging the curves of her body. "When you see me again, it will be over. One way or the other." He found his weapons and the pack he'd carried off the ship and turned back toward her. "Trust me ... please ... "

She nodded, eyes welling as she sat up, sliding to the edge of the bed and slowly beginning to dress. She felt heavy, like her limbs themselves were working against her, willing everything to slow down. "I do," she finally managed. "I trust you."

"Then remember the plan," he said as he kissed her one last time. "And whatever you do, stay away from Matthias." Leaving was hard. Leaving her was nearly impossible but had to be done. He'd done difficult things before. His life had been full of the need for making the tough calls, doing the things no one else would do. And that was how he found the courage, how he managed to go. Because he'd been doing this kind of thing back when he was a child. Long before his voice changed or he got a man's growth, he'd needed to be a man. He honestly couldn't remember ever being a child or having real hope until her. And so, he did it because it was right, because it needed to be done, and because it was for her. His hope. The only one who mattered.

He checked through the curtains, made sure the way was clear, and climbed out the window. He gave her one last look, filled with love and longing and the pain of parting, and then, as he turned away, shut it all down in his mind. His expression hardened as he slipped into the shadows. Time to go hunting.

She stood at the window, drinking every last second remaining to her even as he walked away and when she couldn't see him anymore, she turned back to the bed, perfect white linens the only evidence that he had been here with her. The tears came then, hard and hot while she curled up in the spot he had left trying to cling to even that last little bit that smelled of him. And she let them come. All the things she'd held back while they pretended. All of the brave faces she'd had to put on for her family and for the other members of the Xiao Jin shattered. All those things broke in her and she let out the grief and fear and loss, the darkness of it threatening to consume her. And for a few minutes, she let it.

And then, slowly, the tears abated and she lay there silent except for periodic sniffling, willing herself to get up. To return to the ship. To start the clock again. It couldn't, after all, stay ice-whisper quiet.

 

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