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Me and Mrs. Stone (Part 2)

Posted on Wed Aug 31st, 2022 @ 4:08pm by Quinlan Barrett Poe & Addy Stone

Mission: The Xiao Jin Chronicles
Location: Xiao Jin
Timeline: Mission Day 36 at 2300

He rolled over, his hand automatically seeking to connect with her slight frame and found the other side of the bed empty. Yawning, he lay there for a moment, studying the spot where she should be while his mind sifted through possibilities. When danger was always near at hand, you couldn't afford to wake up slowly and he didn't. Generally, he went from asleep to awake in the space of a heartbeat. Being awake didn't necessarily mean that he had to get up which was reasonable. He got up anyway on the strength of an uneasy feeling.

He dressed in a loose-fitting gray top and a pair of worn drawstring pants that would satisfy even the shepherd's need for propriety but still satisfy his own preference for comfort and a sharp division between working and relaxed. Up the ladder, down the corridor, making his slow way through the quiet ship toward the kitchen. On the way, he stopped in the bathroom to check. No Addy. The uneasy feeling roiled through him again and his steps quickened.

She wasn't in the kitchen either but the tea was and so he set about making himself a pot.

The only sound that announced the arrival of not two, but all five of the Weysmith siblings was the sound of boots on the ramp. Addy had been on autopilot since setting foot out of Matthias Stone's bedroom, her brain working hard to block what he had done with her there. Her skin felt foreign to her, like she was wearing someone else's body and she desperately wanted a shower. She wanted to scrub him off of her... out of her... and the thought of that scrubbing kept her feet moving.

They'd untied Peter once the signing was done and she'd disappeared with Matthias. Blessedly he'd had the forethought to insist on birth certificates and any other papers pertaining to the three younger siblings and had gotten them all as hastily packed as possible. They were all waiting for her when she stepped back into the main room, small bags carrying only those things they could and Peter with his hand on Lori Jo's shoulder.

Dead-eyed she had looked at them and then, with as few words as possible, had rounded them up and gotten them on their way. The only words spoken since had been directions to make sure they all got where they were going.

"Addy," Peter said quietly, a gentle hand on her arm once everyone was inside and she'd hit the button to close the ramp.

She met his eyes, swallowing the panicked well of grief and disgust that roiled in her belly and then shook her head. "I can't Peter. Not now."

He seemed as though he was going to think twice, say something else, but he nodded finally and turned to the others. "Everyone's probably asleep," he informed them. "You can put your bags in my room for now."

Poe came out of the kitchen barefoot with his hair rumpled from sleep, a pot of tea in one hand and a cup in the other to see all of the Weysmith siblings being led by Peter toward the dorms, bags in hands. He cocked his head slightly as his gaze returned to Addy. "I haven't been asleep that long," he said chuckling softly. "We kidnapping your family after all?"

She'd gotten herself to the bottom of the stairs, but hadn't gotten so far as getting up them. Couldn't seem to will her feet forward for all she knew she had to. And then there he was, looking like some kind of rumpled piece of heaven, sleep still all about him and all she wanted was to curl up in his arms and ask him to make it better. To take it all away. She met his eyes, that soft chuckle so familiar that it made her ache, and her eyes filled with tears, gaze swimming and making him blur before she plunked down on the stairs where she was, cradling her head in her hands, and sobbed.

He put the teapot on the table with the one cup and figured if they all wanted tea, the cups weren't far away. What mattered more, was Addy. Clearly, she had left the ship, something had happened but what? He walked over and crouched in front of her, his voice gentled with concern and the need to set things right for her. "Hey, talk to me. What's going on?"

She shook her head, hard, face still hidden by her hands. Every inch of her felt defiled, made worse by the betrayal she knew she had to confess. And it was that. She felt it in her bones even as she her brain flailed to try to find some other way out of what had happened. "I'm sorry," she mumbled into her hands. "Quinn... I'm so so sorry."

"Sorry," he repeated, confusion stamped plainly across his features. "Whatever for? Got no problem with rescuing your family. We'll figure out a way to make it all legal like. There's no need for tears."

She did look up at him then, stricken. "It's legal already," she said croaked, voice still choked with tears. She willed herself to keep her eyes open. Told herself she deserved this feeling. Deserved to know that he would never look at her with that gentle concern and confusion again. "Peter and I are their guardians now." And when she saw that the confusion only deepened she dug a crumpled sheet of freshly notarized paper out of the front pocket of her coveralls and, hand shaking, offered it to him. "It was the only way... the only way that nobody else got hurt... or..." she pictured the gun to his head again. The same leer that had been on Matthias's face as he made her body his, on his face in her mind's eye as she imagined him pulling the trigger. "He was gonna kill you Quinn."

He accepted the paper from her, smoothed it out as he read the words, and as each one sunk in, it chipped away at the expression on his face, turning love and concern to the same shuttered expression he used on everyone else. "You married him," he said quietly. "Can it be annulled or ..." His voice trailed off because he couldn't complete the thought. Couldn't comprehend her being with anyone else.

"I don't know," she whispered. "I hope so. There... there has to be some way... there just wasn't... not when it happened. Every other option was worse." The tears still streamed down her face, but she was quieter now. She couldn't look at him now that she'd been shut out.

She took a deep shaky breath and plowed ahead, diving into the thing she'd prepared herself to say, the only thing she knew to offer. "I'm not required to stay here," she said and then quickly explained the terms of the agreement. She didn't give him a moment to react to the knowledge that she'd been allowed to stay with him though. "I also understand if you'd as soon never see me again. I've no right even to ask even this much, but please... if you'd get my family safely away. I can stay here if you can't stand to have me on board. Or, if you've a mind, you can set me down at the next nearest port. I don't expect you to want me, Quinn. I understand. I do."

"Well that makes one of us," Poe said as he rose to his feet, his hand crumpling the marriage certificate into a tight ball. "Let's get some tea and start again. And by start, I mean from what happened at Henry's house after I left. He didn't want to walk you back to the ship?"

She followed him into the dining room, suddenly exhausted as if all of the fight and all of the dread and all of the grief had caught up at once and settled on her shoulders like a weight. When he set a cup of tea in front of her she took it appreciatively, but didn't look up. She waited until he was seated with his own cup before she began.

"Mrs. Campbell needed something from the store," she said, some of the numb deadness she felt afterward stole back into her words and as she spoke her eyes lost focus as images of the events swam through her head. "I offered to get it. Left them with Henry. Matthias... his men took me two blocks from their house." Absently she released the mug with one hand, reaching across to rub at her arm over her shirt where she could still feel the bruising roughness of their hands. "My father..." she stumbled here, then forced herself to start over. "My father offered him Juliet. In my stead. To maintain the contract. He was gonna marry her off then and there."

She pictured that look on Juliet's face and the knowledge of what he would have done to her after filled, making her mouth taste bitter. "He was gonna marry her. And he was gonna take her..." she stumbled to a stop with a shuddering breath, eyes closing. "He would have raped her, Quinn. She's 17. She'd be his wife, but... it wouldn't have been any loving marriage bed."

Eyes still closed she took another steadying breath. "He offered to take me instead. Or to make sure they all starved. Gary. Lori Jo. Juliet. They had Peter tied and gagged. Something happened at Henry's and they had to leave. They were all right there." The image of her family burned into her mind's eye like a brand and she forced her eyes open trying desperately to clear it, but looking at Quinn was worse.

"He said... he said if I even thought about taking Peter and Juliet and getting your help... he'd put a bullet in your head." The image again, of a gun held to his head, reared up, ugly and damning. "I can't... I can't be the reason you die. The reason they die. The reason Juliet gets raped. The reason..." she clamored to a stop. "So I did it."

"You didn't trust me to have your back," he said softly. He sat and stared down into his teacup, searching its depths for answers, while his mind grappled with this sudden new reality. "For as long as I can remember, there's always been someone seeking to do me harm, but you know what? I'm darned hard to kill and I'm not without talent when it comes to it. No jumped-up farm boy is going to take me out, but you didn't even give me a chance. He played on your insecurities, and you let him like the martyr your Daddy raised you to be."

He kept a tight grip on his emotions, not daring to let them all out, because that would be bad. Beyond bad. Instead, he took a steadying breath and held it for a few seconds and then, let it out slowly. The face he turned toward her reflected none of the pain and anger he felt. Not a bit. "I'll get us in the black and headed toward Persephone. While I'm doing that, I think it best that you move into your old quarters. That should honor the letter of your agreement with your ... husband. You family can have however many rooms in the passenger dorms that they need and I think there's enough in the food stores to feed everyone though it won't be much more than protein and rice for the trip back."

Addy hadn't realized she was holding out hope, even then, that he'd want her until that moment. She hadn't realized that she'd anything left in her to mourn. But at the blankness on his face--the business-like nature in his tone--something in her felt like it cracked and then shattered. The pain was so sharp that the one hand she still had on her mug tightened, knuckles going white, and she couldn't stop the sob that rushed past her lips, though she worked hard to clamp it down right after, unwilling or perhaps unable to do more.

She didn't wait, then, but pushed back from the table, untouched tea still steaming where Quinn had set the mug down and wordlessly she turned to collect her things.

"I'll get us in the black then," Poe said and rose smoothly from his seat. "Good night, Mrs. Stone." He left her there, his own tea untouched, and headed up to the bridge. He needed quiet and time to think. To get past the tight ball of pain in his chest that was making it so gorram hard to breathe. To get away before he said or did something he'd regret. And so, he walked away from the daydream he'd been leaving in and back into the real world. The one where he was on his own, same as always.

 

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