What We Cannot Be
Location: Xiao Jin, Cargo Hold
Timeline: Mission Day 20 at 2120
It was late for there to be footsteps on the ramp and yet the regular clip of someone ascending caught Addy's attention. As she had the last time Quinlan'd gone off, Addy was making herself busy in cargo hold. The tread didn't sound like Poe, though, so she came to the top of the ramp before the person could set foot on the ship.
A ragged hat, breeches that didn't fit quite right, and an oversized shirt that billowed at the arms very nearly obscured the messenger entirely. The boy, because he surely wasn't much older than 11 or 12, showed not an ounce of fear, though, even though Addy went ahead and tucked her jacket back making it more than evident that she was armed. The thought of how ridiculous it must seem to be showing a gun to a child ran through her head and yet... she had the ship.
"Message for Mr. Poe," the boy's voice called. Higher pitched so he had to be on the young side of her estimate.
"I'll take it," Addy said simply, holding out her hand.
The messenger looked like he might hesitate a moment, but whomever his master was hadn't told him to insist on putting it in Poe's hands so he handed it over and with a nod turned and jogged back down the ramp.
The paper of the envelope was fine, possibly the finest Addy had held in her hands outside of a book. The writer must have expected to find Poe here directly because it wasn't sealed. Addy flipped the flap of the envelop open, peeking inside for a moment and then rationalizing to herself that if she had the ship and this had to do with the ship then she should get ahead of it.
The folded bit of paper she drew forth was as fine as the envelope and matched. A luxury. A looping feminine script covered the small page and a waft of something decidedly floral met her nose. For a moment she thought to close it again. No message written like that with that smell could possibly be about the ship. It was certainly personal. And yet... she was here now.. and her gut had started to churn as possibilities rolled through her head. With a deep breath she read.
As we agreed, I will continue to accept messages on your behalf. I can send them over by messenger or you can always stop by. Though things have changed between us, I'll always have a pot of tea ready for you.
Love... Love Amari. Love... It echoed in her head like laughter. She read it again, this time feeling slightly sick. Whoever this was addressed him the way she did. Addy had thought she might be the only one who had the privilege of calling him Quinn.
Stupid. That had been a stupid thing to assume. An unfair thing to assume. She didn't know who this woman was, but her mind immediately went to the nth possibility. A lover? Someone here who he had left behind?
Amari... Love Amari... Love... Her face flared hot, embarrassed at her own naivete before her brain latched onto a sort of desperate hope. The message said things had changed. Maybe she was reading too much into this. He could explain it. He would. Surely.
Poe sighted the ship and though there wasn't much that could be seen from the outside, he felt just that little bit of relief mixed with pleasure that the Xiao Jin was there at all. Better, that she had a crew and better still, that Addy was aboard. The mystery meeting had turned out to to be a bit of a surprise what with meeting up with Remy again and now, the promise of a good payday. He held check on his hopes though. Managing expectations. He was an expert in that seeing as how his life had made sure he learned that lesson well and good.
Addy hadn't moved far from the top of the ramp and was standing just inside when Poe reached the bottom. The ring of his footsteps was familiar and her head darted up, expression a bit like a deer in headlights. With a twist to her gut she tucked the sheet of paper beneath the envelope flap. No point putting it back in. Quinn should know she'd read it and she needed to know, for good or ill, who Amari was.
His smile, rare and given only to her, faded to nothing as he caught sight of her. "Something happen," he asked, his internal alarm going off, as he moved more quickly. "Everyone alright?"
She looked at him and then shook her head, though her expression remained conflicted. "Everyone's fine," she replied, then she held out the note for him to take. "This just came for you. I wasn't sure if it was ship business so I opened it, in case it needed taking care of."
Relief that all was well faded as he saw the opened letter. Pleasure and warmth faded as he took the letter in hand and shoved it into his back pocket unread. "Nothing that comes in an envelope is urgent enough for you to open, Addy," he said evenly.
"It wasn't sealed," she said back evenly. "And I either am going to do what you need or I'm not. Didn't occur to me that you might be receiving private correspondence from a woman."
She regretted it as soon as it was out of her mouth, but there it was and she couldn't take it back now that she'd said it. The sign off ran through her head again in perfectly feminine cursive. Somehow that singular script was more refined and feminine than Addy knew she could ever be in her entire life and her face fell. "I'm sorry, Quinn. I thought it was the right thing to do. And now..." Her eyes went to her boots. "Who is she?"
"It wasn't," Poe said, his expression closed now, the face of the boy who had taken the beatings, the man who had stood up against whatever came his way, as he shook his head ever so slightly. There weren't many pure patches in his memory. He preserved those places and people and memories against all comers. They were few and far between. "Watching the ship means making sure that we aren't overrun. If there's nothing going on, pull up the gorram ramp. But if it comes in an envelope with my name on it, then that's for me to open."
He paused a moment, fighting back the anger that came readily to his lips, willing himself to a calm he didn't feel. "Her name is Amari but I suspect you know that, seeing as how you've already read it. She's a companion and a friend."
The tone of his voice was like a slap and with it she almost missed his explanation. He was angry, she could tell, but she was just as angry back feeling as if she were navigating this all blind without the benefit of his willingness to help her understand. Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes and that fed her anger, adding embarrassment on top of it. She did not want him to see her cry and so she set her jaw and stared at her feet.
"I see," she said with steely quiet. "Is she your companion?" she asked. She'd dug this hole already, she might as well bury herself in it.
"If you're asking if I've used her services, then the answer to that is yes," Poe said. Honesty he promised her and so, he answered though it was hard to do. Not when she was tearing open one of the pure places, demanding her way in and all. "When I could afford it. When I needed it. If you're asking me if I still use her services, then the answer to that is no. Not since you came back into my life."
She nodded, once, a thread of cool relief running through the miasma of hot anger in her chest.
"Ok," she said simply, still quiet, still yanking hard on the reigns of her emotions. Some of the fear quieted, but not all of it. Here was a woman he'd chosen to go to. She hadn't missed his word choice. When he needed her services. He'd told her not to mourn the time they'd lost, but this felt like another reminder of how she had not been there and no matter how hard she tried she couldn't shaking feeling that he didn't need her. Not her interference. Not her worry. Not her desire to know and understand. He clearly didn't want her back up, though he was training her anyway.
No part of her begrudged him seeing a companion. The 'Verse was a lonely place even when you were surrounded by people. And she'd done her own appeasing of needs right after the war's end when she tried to convince herself he was dead or didn't want her. Still. She wished she had known. She wished she could be for him what this woman had been.
"Quinn, I care about you more than you can know, but right now I think it might be best if I wasn't here. I'm sorry for opening it. Wasn't ever a thought of invading your privacy and of all the things I know you hold that dearer than anything. Close the ramp if you need to. I'll be back 'twixt now and morning."
She said it like she was certain, but not a single part of her felt certainty. Still, she couldn't bear the weight of his anger at her. So she looked up at him again, tears still pricking at her eyes, kissed him on the cheek... and then she fled.