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Ezran Storytime (With Added Rum)

Posted on Sat Sep 18th, 2021 @ 12:15pm by Alden Loxley & James Thomson

Mission: Back in Black
Location: Alden's Cabin
Timeline: Day 26 - Late Afternoon

Alden paced up and down his own room, the cube his little cousin had just handed him clutched more tightly with each passing second. He said nothing - which was always a bad sign - temper building up internally to a breaking point that James knew was coming.

And... yup! There it was. The solid cube thudded unhappily into the far wall, denting the travel poster that covered a previous mark on the metal wall. Tourism out on the Border took a hit to that last 'R' and Alden's mood shifted tempo.

"Niska?" The elder Ezran asked, as he reached into a battered chest beside his desk and pulled out a half-full bottle of cheap rum. "Please just tell me it's not that Guay Toh Guay Nown pulling the strings?" It was, obviously, but he wanted to pretend for a few more seconds.

James remained silent for a moment, his thoughts were racing as fast as his heart was, "You know he is," he admitted guiltily, "he's been pulling mine since I came aboard, you think he was really gonna' let me off that easily?" he moved to lean against the wall, staring into his palms. "No-one quits Niska, I'm lucky he didn't end me when I asked. He knew I'd be a liability if he declined, but didn't want anyone thinking it was okay to leave. This was the deal, I can do what I want and Lauren is safe so long as I do whatever he asks, when he asks." His eyes rose to meet his cousin's.

"I wanted to tell you, many times, but I couldn't see how that would help? This is something you can't help me with but I knew you'd try," he admitted, his voice wavering, "Niska took enough of our kin when he took Mama, he don't need to add to that list".

Alden's fingers clenched about the bottle so tightly he had to put it down for fear of breaking the glass. He kept his face to the wall as James spoke at first, feeling the rush of anger hot, swift and heavy in a volcanic reaction to what he'd half-expected to hear for a while now. He'd given his cousin the benefit of a weighty doubt, he'd pushed down the paranoia and the voice that warned him he was an idiot to think James was free and clear. He'd ignored the signs, pretended everything was okay and he'd told himself that Ali was wrong. James would tell him. And Alden knew now he'd made a far bigger mistake than even he had figured.

He'd been wrong on so many levels lately, honestly, he had to force words back down his own throat until the younger man finally stopped talking. Alden turned to face his cousin after those painful words - no one quits Niska - and that stormfront of an expression on the elder Ezran's face could leave James in zero doubt of his internal fury.

"You should have told me," Alden said. "I'd have left you behind, saved the rest of us." He didn't mean that. Or did he? It was difficult to tell anymore, through the red haze of anger and the cold icy sense of betrayal. "You should have told me, James," he repeated, fists clenched, jaw tight and gaze boring deep into James' own for as long as his cousin allowed that direct eye contact. So much frustration, fear and loathing, such a deep-seated hatred of a situation Alden knew neither of them would ever be truly free of. "What is this, exactly?" He asked, redirecting his bad mood into questions though the ferociousness of his outrage and ire coloured every word. "Why does he want it? And why... why do you have a replica?!"

James' eyes remained locked with Alden's for a beat before the younger man pushed himself off of the wall, "Like Niska would care to tell me any of that," he huffed, "I was just a courier, nothing more," he shared, his tone edged in frustration. He'd honestly never expected overlap with the Echo and Niska beyond destinations. "The bastard told me where were to go and gave me enough info to get the job done. Any time I asked for more I got laughed at and told to do my job or face consequence. Ain't nothing I won't do for Lauren," he declared with hard eyes.

"I wanted to tell you so much though," James carried on, his demeanour softening, "but we both know you'd have never have left me behind anywhere, that ain't you. I didn't want you to get yourself as wrapped up in this as I am, but I had no idea what that would end up costing," Noah, "I'm sorry".

As James kept talking, defending his valid reasons, Alden felt his anger turn to soul-crushing sorrow. His father. James' mother. Both lost to Niska's machinations. Drake's loyalty. Lost. Himself and James cast to a grave on Hera, if temporarily. And Noah. His friend.

"It's not your fault," Alden murmured miserably as he sat himself down on his bunk and rested his face in the curved palms of his hands. Niska was out of both their control. And his little cousin was right, he wouldn't have abandoned him. "But you should have told me. Lauren's okay," the elder Ezran noted. "But Noah isn't."

The reminder hurt. James had tried to rationalize that day plenty, he'd almost convinced himself that what happened would have even if James wasn't there. That didn't absolve him though, he was there, and he wasn't blind to the fact that a bit of honesty would have meant the crew had gone in more prepared probably getting them all out unscathed.

"I k-know," he cleared his throat, "but you know Niska' reputation ain't blown up by any measure. If he'd have known he'd have gotten to Lauren before we could even change course for Ezra." He returned his gaze to Alden's. "Lauren is the most important person in the world to me, she raised me after Ma. The last thing she deserves is to pay for my mistakes," Neither did Noah. "No-one did".

Alden had wanted to hurt his cousin in that moment. Needed to ram that point home. They were out here together, he'd brought James on board his ship in good faith, and he wanted to trust him. He wanted to deny that nagging voice in his head and heart that told him he couldn't. Alison was right, Alden's judgement was flawed, his heart led his mind and he damn well knew it. But James was family. And Noah was family too. He had been.

"Yeah, I know all about Niska's rep," Alden muttered, his eyes to the floor. "And I hear ya. I know he won't kill Drake, but Lauren... he just might." He had to give James that one. He knew the kid had been in an impossible situation. Moving forward though, impossible situations were gonna get more folks killed if they didn't work together right now.

"We won't let anything happen to Lauren," promised Alden, though he knew he didn't have the power to keep that, it wasn't his choice to make. "But you have to tell me this stuff. You have to, cuz. I can't lose anyone else. I just can't..."

He turned his attention to the fake mcguffin James had handed over. "So Niska has the real one? We sure bout that?"

"Fairly, but I'm not entirely sure," James admitted sadly, "I didn't hand it off to him or anyone I recognised. It was some woman with more than enough goons to make me think twice about making her feel threatened," he huffed humorously. "She wasn't exactly forthcoming, I actually think she enjoyed knowing more than I did."

Great, thought Alden. Just peachy keen. Kinda felt like both family and the Verse in general was mocking him at this point. Paranoia teased him unkindly.

"You and Drake up to something together?" He heard himself ask.

James' eyes snapped to Alden's. "Absolutely not. I was good and Niska liked that I got the job done but I was lower rung, barely important to his grand schemes," James shared. He had never hated that part of his job, before the deal it had been easy to fly far under Niska's radar so long as you got results. James had usually worked independently, even when with a group. Maybe he should have tried harder on that last part, might have made things much easier when Zan and his goons ambushed them.

Silence. Alden told himself that he could tell when his little cousin was lying. He knew that skill wasn't truth, but denial was a comfort break for his ego.

"Okay," he said, the word spoken with an edge of uncertainty despite the older Ezran's confident stance. Time to move on. "Say, I believe you," Alden continued. "How can I trust you moving forward? I mean, I love ya cuz, I really do, but you gotta pick a side. You're gonna have to talk to me before this kinda F'n Zse goes down." Alden fixed his very best glare on James and let all that internal wrath weigh down on the younger man in hope of change. "Can you do that?"

"Yes," was all James said at first, waves of relief and anxiety crashing over him. His work for Niska had never been about loyalty and if it had been he'd pick Alden every time. He couldn't help but feel a pang of worry at the vulnerable position this put Lauren in should things go south, family was close but they wouldn't be close enough if Niska decided to take his retribution for James' indiscretion.

"The side is always family, it's how I got wrapped up in this mess. If I'd have just listened to ma when she told me to run things would have been easier," he reflected, kicking off the wall and walking straight to Alden. Resting an hand on his shoulder the younger Ezran looked up to meet his cousin's eyes. "But someone's gotta' protect Lau, we both know she's more than capable of handling a few rowdy patrons but Niska won't be playing games," he stressed.

"Ali's gonna legit kill me one of these days," Alden muttered. And with good reason if his crew kept up this counter-offensive to his sanity and intended work ethic. It had been simple, hadn't it? Before James and Daiyu had joined his merry band...

"We all told you to get outta there," Alden reminded his cousin. He had, Drake had, Lauren and Alden's momma... but... the past was unchangeable and not worth discussing any further. Keeping James close was the only way to regain any kind of control over this fucked-up situation. "But that doesn't matter now. We protect our own, yes, but not at the expense of my crew. Niska won't hurt Lauren now he has what he wanted, right? And we...." Alden cursed under his breath. "We don't even know what it was for."

There was a reckoning coming though, Alden promised himself. First he needed to bring his First Mate - no, pilot - up to speed. Then, Drake was getting it in the neck the very next time he and Ali had the chance to head for home. Ezra. Three Hills. It was on. No mercy.

"Right," James said before sliding down the bulkhead, his head cradled in his hands. Confession out there, the younger Ezran felt exhausted. The countless weeks had blurred into one as the pressure from keeping his ties to Niska a secret had mounted. Though still guilty, James couldn't help but feel relief. Exhaling deeply he looked up to Alden. "What next?"

"We get this mission done for our paying Shepherd," said Alden. "We find what's happened to his lost sheep. And then," he let James sit there, head in hands, without comfort for the moment. Right now, the elder Ezran was still too angry to play happy families - family was still present, would always be present - but he didn't feel like hugging it out just yet.

"Then, once Whit's got what he's paying us for, we're headed to Three Hills. I'm gonna have this out with Drake. If you want to stay on board this ship," Alden continued. "Then I need you to overshare any inbound details from anyone who contacts you - Lauren, Mystery Woman, my little brother... Niska," he spoke the last word in unison with a punch to the metallic wall and Alden closed his eyes, channelling the frustration. "If you can't do that, then you get off at Three Hills too." A weighty pause. "Understand?"



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