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Bitter Pills (Part 4)

Posted on Fri Jul 8th, 2022 @ 10:32pm by Addy Stone & Quinlan Barrett Poe

Mission: The Xiao Jin Chronicles
Location: Sweethome, Weysmith Farm
Timeline: Mission Day 35 at 1400

Previously

Poe's expression gentled for a moment as he regarded Addy and then returned to the poor excuse of a man who ruled the Weysmith farm like the petty tyrant he was. "You stole the money," he said. "Used it to your own benefit and took personal pleasure in involving her in the purchase." His gaze flicked the length of the man. "You should never gamble; the sick pleasure you took in the transaction is plain to see, even now. Here's the thing. You stole that money from her and what you stole, you have to return. Now."

And now...

"And how do you reckon that?" Hank asked, eyes alight with amusement. "Ain't no proof that money ever existed 'cept for a letter and that's in Peter's care to be disposed of as I see fit."

Peter's face drained of color as the words left his father's mouth and his eyes darted to Addy and then Poe, alarm clear in his expression. "I have the letters," he confirmed, "but I never agreed to destroy them. Addy... He told me I could give 'em to you myself. I swear it."

"Oh come off it boy," Hank said dismissively.

Peter's head jerked up at that, the color flooding right back in high and red on his cheeks. "I am 22 years old," he said with quiet anger. "I am not a boy."

"You're a boy as sure as your sister's still a girl. Enough of that nonsense. Why don't you go on and get the letters now. I..."

"Enough!"

It had been Addy who interrupted, pushing back from the table and then standing, leaning forward onto the palms of her hands. "Peter ain't your puppet any more than I am. You leave him out of this. And you can either pay Quinn straight out of the lock box upstairs or we'll take some of the herd to sell to recoup the loss plus interest for your gains."

Peter stood also, but his demeanor was resigned as he placed a hand on Addy's arm. "Let me get them for you Addy. I'll give them to Quinlan." He glanced at the other man then, not sure he had rights to call him by his first name and nodded before slipping away.

Addy's anger had banked slightly at the feel of Peter's hand on her arm, but the embers remained just waiting to be fanned. "The lock box or the cattle?" She asked again, tone even. "You may not believe that we can do a thing, but we're getting what's ours. You choose if it's willingly or by force."

It was Eleanora who decided it, her hand settled on Hank's knee beneath the table, squeezing lightly. "Ain't worth it Hank. They want to go to the trouble of recouping their funds then give them two of the yearlings. They can deal with the care and feeding and transporting and negotiating."

Addy's eyes turned to her mother, a sharp appraising look on her face, but she nodded. "That would be sufficient," she said.

Hank shrugged again, that same infuriating motion. "Fine," he said as if he hadn't just been out maneuvered. "Then we can be one happy family. Mr. Poe can be on his way and we can see about getting Matthias over here. He's something he's itching to ask of you."

He wanted to say so many things but he held back. If he made the decision for her, then he'd be no better than her father. And so, he waited to hear her response.

"Where Quinn goes, I go," Addy said voice deadly quiet. "So you can stop this nonsense about being one happy family. We ain't been that in a very long time if ever we could have said we were."

She stepped back from the table coming to stand next to Quinn and sliding her hand into his. "I have loved him for a decade. And you know it. No point in you pretending it's anything less. You and Matthias Stone and everyone else."

Peter had returned just as Addy stepped back to take Poe's hand. His eyes were wide, tension rolling through him beside no small amount of pride in his sister's firmness.

He squeezed her hand and standing beside her, he could all but see the bitterness and anger flood the old man's face. The wife's too for that matter. Neither one believed him good enough for her but then, they didn't see Addy as a person neither. She was a commodity, same as the livestock, to be used to further their own goals.

"Addy will pick out the ones she wants," Poe said. "And then, we'll be going but hear this, old man. Your days of treating your children like pawns are over. You don't get to decide their future, they do. And I mean to ensure that this happens. Starting with Peter." He turned toward Addy's brother, looked him in the eye, and said, "No one should live like this. If you've a mind to go, Addy and I will help you get a start on your own dreams, whatever they may be. Leave the sad little tyrant to his pile of cow dung."

The hope that shone on Peter's face was almost painful in it's radiance. He looked at Poe the way a drowning man looks at a life preserver just as he releases his last breath of air. And then, as fast as the hope bloomed it snuffed out and his face fell. Though it was Poe who had made the offer it was Addy to whom he addressed his thoughts.

"I want to take your offer. Truly I do," he said. His eyes willed her to understand before he turned them back to Poe. "But... Juliet and Gary and Lori Jo..." He trailed off a helplessness settling in his gut.

Hank had leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest with a smirk like a cat who had just gotten into the cream. "He hasn't got the balls," he said cruelly. "Never did have the kind of determination Addy has."

Poe considered for a long moment, his frank and assessing gaze moving only between the two of them, and then it occurred to him. "We can't take the younger children away from the parents," Poe said, "but we can do this. Come back for them. The morning of their eighteenth birthday, we will be here with the same offer. To make sure that they get the life they choose and not the one their parents try to force on them." He smiled at the parents though it wasn't a smile that any living being could enjoy receiving. "And I invite them to try to stop me. I purely do."

Addy had listened to the exchange, her whole heart in her throat as the man she loved offered help to her brother. She begged Peter to accept with her eyes, knowing he had to make this decision. And she understood his worry. Had Peter not been here she might not have been able to leave herself.

At Quinn's offer, though, her heart swelled. Her look was all gratitude as she twisted to take in his profile. "Oh Quinn " she breathed, the sound quiet enough that at best Peter might hear beyond Poe himself. "Thank you."

Peter, too, was relieved. He still feared for his siblings, but knowing they would return. That they would, at least, have the choice. He nodded his agreement to Poe.

"Juliet," Addy said then, calculating fast. "She's 18 in only a few weeks. 5, I believe. Can we be back by then?"

As the three spoke Hank's expression had slowly soured. It galled him that there had been no reaction to his comment about Peter. Who did this boy think he was coming in here like he had some right to take his children? It was Eleanora, though, who spoke up. "You've no right," she spat. "Come in here and we care for you. Heal you. You've already taken Addy from us. How dare you?"

"And that," Poe said quietly, "is the problem in a nutshell. One you can't seem to wrap your heads around. I didn't take anyone. Addy chose to go and Peter and Juliet? If they leave, it will be because they chose to go, because you drove them to it." He shook his head in disgust. "Fools, the pair of you." He turned toward Addy and Peter. "And of course, we can be back in five weeks for Juliet if she wants to go, that is."

Addy nodded, sharing a look with Peter. She didn't know for sure what Juliet might say, but it seemed as good an offer as they could possibly make. "We should go evaluate the yearlings," she said quietly then. "And we need to reach Morgan or Clayton and ask them to bring the ship. I'm not sure we can transport the yearlings on the shuttle."

"Bao bei," Poe said, chuckling, as he turned toward the door, "I'm certain we can't." He looked at Peter. "How long will it take you to gather your stuff?"

"Half an hour maybe," he said glancing at his parents again for the first time in a while. "I can be quick."

His expression was anxious, but determined and Addy couldn't help the swell of pride she felt as she looked at him. She turned toward the door herself, moving in that direction without bothering to acknowledge her parents who were still at the table, clearly displeased with the way she and Peter had simply removed them from the conversation.

"Oh," Peter said, drawing her attention back before she could go any further, "here."

He shoved a bundle of paper and envelopes into her hands and she pulled them close to her chest, wrapping them as if she were wrapping something precious. "Thank you," she said softly and then, turning to Poe, she nodded, heading for the door once more.

Rage. That was the singular thing that filled Hank Weysmith's mind, his heart, his vision, as he watched his eldest two children turn from him. No exclude him. Removing him from their decision making as if he wasn't even there. He shook with it... burned with it... and without a thought to what might happen he was out of his seat and advancing on Addy, the single minded thought in his head that he would not allow her to leave that room without acknowledging him.

Peter's back was already turned when he heard the scrape of the chair and long years of learning to cringe away from his father slowed his reaction. He turned just as Hank came level with Addy, one fist snagging the strap of her coveralls and tugging.

"You will not..." Hank growled.

Poe reacted with the lightning-fast reflexes he had developed as a means of surviving his childhood. The gun was out of its holster and leveled at Weysmith's head in less time than it took for the man to sputter those few words. "Wrong. You will not ... touch her ... ever again."

Addy had stumbled backward when her father yanked, but she regained her feet quickly as his actions moved to sudden stillness. Her face had erupted red, a mixture of embarrassment and fear, and she held her breath only releasing it in one enormous whoosh of relief when his hand slowly unclenched from where it held her fast.

Hands slowly coming into the air, Hank Weysmith took a singular step away from his daughter. His face was a rictus of anger and hate as he regarded Poe. "Do it. See if she recovers from watching the man she claims to love put a bullet through her father's head."

"Oh, now see," Poe said as he handed his weapon over to Addy, "wrong again." His fist connected along the side of the older man's jaw, at the chin, causing his head to snap to the side. He stepped back as the elder Weysmith fell backward to the floor and waited. "She's out of bounds. So is Peter for that matter. They're under my protection now."

To Addy it was almost as if her father fell in slow motion. She watched as he hit the ground in almost a slump; watched as his eyes seemed to roll back. Her hand shook where it held the gun as she slowly brought it to her side. Her eyes slid from his face to his chest, noting the rise and fall that confirmed he was breathing.

Eleanora had scrambled from her chair, coming to her knees and fluttering over her husband, hands going to his shoulders and then carefully drawing his head into her lap. "What did you do?" she spat angrily at Poe. "How dare..."

"His head needed rearranging Mama." It was Addy who spoke. Though there was a quaver in her voice, the result of the adrenaline coursing through her, her words were sad.

Poe gently extracted the gun from Addy's grip and returned it to his holster. His expression remained neutral, guarded. In protective mode, Poe swept all of his feelings into a pile and tucked them into a corner of his mind to deal with later. What mattered was Addy and Peter. Getting them out and safe.

She glanced at Peter then, giving him a small nod and turned back to Quinn. "Let's go look at those yearlings," she said quietly.

"Maybe you should get your things first," he said to them both. "We'll put them in the shuttle and then go take a look."

 

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