Parental Approval. (Garrett Oswell)Fandom:
Miraculously, these two have stuck things through long enough to actually get married in Luceti. But just as they're settling into domestic bliss, parents from both sides of the marriage come crashing in.Rating:
G for Garrett.Notes:
I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the world who’s ever RPed Garrett Oswell. You can essentially blame that on this fic.
(Jeez, I’ve let this sit for so long that its world is officially jossed thanks to luceti
Pao-Lin answers the doorbell when it rings in the middle of dinner, but it’s Hubert that their mysterious visitor demands to see.
No...not “mysterious.” Hubert knows exactly
who it is. His soldier’s training (or something else entirely) kicks in and he’s on his feet in an instant, putting himself between Pao-Lin and the threat waiting for them at their front door.
“Hello, Father,” he says simply, his voice cold and hard even as his nerves start to simmer.
Garrett Oswell raises his thin eyebrows in mild surprise. “So you are
here,” he responds, not sounding particularly relieved at the prospect of seeing his own son — adopted though he may be. He folds his arms as he steps fully inside the house. “Good, good. You and I need to talk.” His gaze slides to Pao-Lin, his disdain and curiosity barely concealed. “But first...I believe an introduction is in order.”
Wonderful. This reunion is getting off to a good start already. Hubert shoves away his dread and gestures. “This is Pao-Lin, my partner. Wife, I mean. Pao-Lin, this is my father, Mr. Oswell.”
Garrett’s tan skin pales with shock. “Your w — you cannot possibly be serious!” he sputters.
“I would not joke about something like this.” Nor would he lie about it, apparently, despite his slip-up providing a potential pretense for one. “Luceti plays by different rules than you are used to, as you will soon find if you haven’t already. What happens here has no effect on our home worlds.”
“That’s not the point!” Garrett insists. “What do you think you’re doing, marrying a girl like her in a place like this?”
“...” Hubert glances at a bewildered-looking Pao-Lin. “I expect this will be a lengthy conversation,” he says to her. “Perhaps you could brew a pot of tea for us?”
Pao-Lin nods, leaving to do just that.
Father and son take their talk to the living room. Neither of them seat themselves. “Is she even from any sort of lineage?” asks Garrett, making no apparent effort to lower his voice.
Hubert sighs. Typical of the man to ignore niceties for those deemed to be beneath his notice unless it serves his purposes. “No. But as I’ve already said, the conventions of Strahtan society are worthless here. There’s little point in considering them.”
“If you were going to do something as foolhardy and pointless as marrying a girl from another world, you could have at least chosen someone with some measure of respectability. Or do you truly mean to tell me you’ve wed her out of ‘love’?”
“There is no other reason to do so here.” He hates having to admit something so personal to Garrett, but he can’t think of any viable reason to hide the truth. “Even so, I would not have gone through with the marriage if I thought for a single moment that it would truly compromise my position in Strahta.” He can’t resist adding: “Isn’t it as you once said? ‘The only shame is in getting caught.’
A scornful sniff; Garrett clearly doesn’t appreciate having his own words thrown back in his face. “What in the world possessed you to think of attaching yourself to her in the first place? I can’t imagine it was because of her looks.”
Hubert’s jaw tightens. He exhales, forcing himself to relax. “To start with, Pao-Lin is a formidable warrior, possessing strength in both body and mind. She has trained in armed and unarmed combat since she was five years old. By the time she was 11, her expertise was impressive enough that she was actively recruited into full-time law enforcement, a job she held for four years before being taken to Luceti. Additionally, her trademark ability is generating lightning from her body. At full power, she is able to kill a man almost instantly with just a touch, but she prefers to use her ability in less lethal ways.” He waves a hand. “If you’d like, I can request a demonstration from her. I realize that what I’m describing must sound quite outlandish to you, so — ”
“No! No, that’s...that won’t be necessary.” Garrett’s gaze darts in the direction of the kitchen for a worried moment before settling on Hubert again. “A warrior woman, is she? And involved in keeping societal order...yes, I suppose those would be attributes befitting the wife of a decorated military officer like yourself. Even so, I fully expect you to cease this nonsense once we return to our world! If you’ve any respect at all for the Oswell family name, you’ll — ” He suddenly frowns and adjusts his glasses as he peers at something. “What is that thing?
Hubert turns to glance over his shoulder, and sees Stormy trotting into the kitchen to join Pao-Lin. “That would be Pao-Lin’s pet dragon, acquired from a mission about two years ago. Don’t be fooled by her size. She can be quite spirited at times...particularly whenever she feels her mistress is in danger.”
Garrett is looking less and less pleased by the moment. “You certainly are keeping interesting company in this house. I hope you’re not expecting any more...additions...to it.”
Hubert just barely refrains from cringing at the thought of children. “No. And there are no future plans for that.”
“As well there shouldn’t. Your ‘marriage’ here is problematic enough without involving offspring.” Garrett raises a hand to his chin in thought, looking in the direction of the kitchen again. “You said that creature was acquired from a mission...?”
“Yes. The Malnosso Organization recruits volunteers from this enclosure to help with various tasks, which can be as mundance as filing information or as dangerous as killing monsters and other hostiles. Upon completion, the volunteers are awarded with points, which they can redeem for more tangible compensation.”
“Well, some have requested personal belongings from their home worlds, while others have asked for raw construction materials. It’s also possible to have the Malnosso apply a custom Shift for your personal benefit, for example in warding off unwanted effects from experiments — though the devices powering those Shifts are neither reliable nor permanent.
“An explanation of the missions is in the back of your journal, along with a place to sign up for them. However, the missions are heavily skewed towards combat and fieldwork. Unless you’re willing to be a test subject for Shifts” — and Hubert highly doubts this, as it would be quite the blow to Garrett’s pride — “your only option is to be an information assistant.”
Pao-Lin enters the living room with a tea tray. She sets it down on the coffee table, moving as though to avoid the notice of a wild animal. She needn’t have worried: Garrett is too occupied with looking over the mission guide in his journal to bother with her. Still, Hubert allows himself a moment of apologetic sympathy for Pao-Lin. He wouldn’t wish Garrett on his worst enemy, never mind his own wife. (Partner
, he mentally corrects himself, using Pao-Lin’s preferred term.) But reassuring her can come later. For now, he has to focus on dealing with Garrett.
Hubert walks over and takes a cup of tea for himself, blowing on the hot liquid as he eyes Garrett across the way. He can already guess what’s going through his father’s head at the moment. Given the lack of political structure and business opportunities within Luceti itself, Garrett is looking for a way into the good graces of the Malnosso Organization in the hopes that he can get back to Ephinea with their help. But if returning home isn’t an option, local power is the next best thing.
To be honest, Hubert is skeptical that Garrett could successfully navigate the social order of this world. But it won’t do to underestimate the man’s wiles and determination when it comes to making a grab for power. Either way, Hubert hopes Garrett will leave Luceti as soon as possible. Preferably sometime in the next minute or so, but the next day or even next week will be more than acceptable.
“You’ve been on these missions yourself, I assume,” Garrett says, eyes still on his journal.
“What have you done with the points you’ve earned?”
“Nothing much, for the most part. However, sometimes people will volunteer their points for the common good, such as requesting a protective Shift on a building built by members of the community, and I’ve offered my points for that sort of thing on occasion. Otherwise, I don’t find much personal value in them. Any ‘gifts’ from the Malnosso are only meant to placate us so that we are easier for them to control.”
“Of course. It’s generally counterproductive to have restless, angry captives. But considering how powerful the Malnosso seem to be, it’s worthwhile to see what they offer.”
“I understand that quite well, Father. But there is a fine line between cooperation and servitude.” Hubert pauses to take a careful sip of his tea. “Still, by all accounts, Luceti is the favored enclosure among the ones that still exist. Its reputation for having the most violent psychopaths, as untruthful as it may be, also gives us some leverage in dealing with both the Malnosso and the additional enclosures.”
“Hm.” Garrett closes his journal and slides it back into a pocket inside his jacket. “Luceti certainly seems like a quaint
place, at any rate, rather reminiscent of the bucolic Windorian countryside. Why...one almost wonders if the inhabitants have come to prefer such a peaceful imprisonment over returning home, like domesticated animals who’ve forgotten what it’s like to be free.”
“For some, it is the only home they have now. Were they to return to their own worlds, they’d be dead — or worse.”
“Surely that can’t be more than a tiny percentage of Luceti.”
Hubert sets his teacup on the table with a sharp clink. “If you’re implying that I’ve given up on finding a way back to Ephinea simply because I am married, you are gravely mistaken.”
“But why else would you marry, if you didn’t have plans of settling down?”
That’s a question with an answer that Hubert is barely comfortable with admitting to himself, never mind to someone like Garrett. He settles for a half-truth instead. “Haven’t we discussed this already? I enjoy Pao-Lin’s company, and the arrangement pleases her. I concluded there was little risk in the matter, and thus I saw no reason not to indulge her in it.” Hubert glares. “With all due respect, I’m fully capable of making decisions without your input.”
“Decisions that involve you shirking your duty to the Oswell family!”
“I am simply adapting to the circumstances, nothing more. Besides, you will remember none of this if you return to Yu Liberte now. Those who are sent back to their worlds remember nothing of their stay here.”
“What? That’s ridiculous!”
Hubert adjusts his glasses. “I agree. But its ridiculousness doesn’t preclude its veracity. I’ve experienced it myself, and only remembered Luceti once I returned to it for a second time. There are other residents who can verify this phenomenon as well.”
Garrett frowns. “A ‘second’ time...how long have you been in Luceti for?”
“By Ephinean standards? Perhaps five years.” At Garrett’s flabbergasted expression, Hubert continues: “And yet, you heard no word of my disappearance, did you? It was like I’d never left at all.” He steps forward, physically asserting his current advantage. “Do you understand now what extraordinary circumstances these are? You can’t approach them with the logic of home.”
For a moment, the truth almost seems to dawn on Garrett.
But instead he says: “And so you think that five years away is enough excuse for you to abandon all sense of honor and loyalty to the family that took you in when your own decided they didn’t want you anymore?”
This time, Hubert can’t suppress a flinch. “It wasn’t as though I chose
to come here,” he responds tightly, the ends of his patience fraying.
“That doesn’t matter. A man’s true self blooms in the desert of adversity, as the old proverb goes, and do you know what self I see? An ungrateful, selfish, petulant child with no sense of his responsibilities.”
Hubert’s hand snaps out to his side. “I will not be spoken to like that in my own home!”
Garrett only waves dismissively. “Oh, yes, your ‘home’ — this pitiful shack in a backwater prison. Not even a peasant would accord this as an estate worthy of pride. If your standards have truly fallen this low, I’m disappointed in you.”
Hubert ignores how much those words cut into him. “This conversation is over, Father. Please leave.”
Garrett looks like he’s about to argue, but instead he only gives Hubert a cautious look — perhaps remembering how a certain plan for a coup d’etat had been so swiftly terminated. “I disagree,” he mutters. “But, as it’s already quite late, perhaps this topic would be better revisited under the light of day.”
Hubert watches his second father turn his back on him without so much as a farewell, and wishes that the sight didn’t leave such a familiarly empty hole in his chest.***
Hubert retreats to his study for the rest of the night, hoping to forget the events of earlier. He sends a brief journal message to Asbel warning him (and by extension, the rest of House 28) of Garrett’s presence before flipping open a hefty novel he’s working his way through. He believes himself too wound up to sleep, but he finishes only one (admittedly long) chapter before yawns start punctuating the words he’s reading. Giving in to his biological clock, Hubert undergoes his usual preparations for bed and then heads over to Pao-Lin’s bedroom, where he finds the door open as it usually is.
“Mm...” Pao-Lin stirs and glances over her shoulder as Hubert slides under the covers next to her. “Is everything okay?”
The words are out of his mouth automatically. “It’s fine.” Then, after a few moments of effort: “...no. It’s not fine. I don’t like that he’s here.”
Pao-Lin moves closer to Hubert, pressing her back against his chest and reaching over to take his hands in hers. “I can see why. He doesn’t seem very nice.”
“Mr. Oswell is many things, but ‘nice’ is not one of them,” Hubert agrees. “You should ignore him as much as possible. Hopefully he will do the same. If he doesn’t...well, you should still ignore him.”
“So I get to be mean right back at him?”
Hubert can’t help but smirk a little at the idea of someone like Pao-Lin attempting to be mean. “I wasn’t suggesting that you antagonize him. Rather, you shouldn’t take to heart anything he might say to you. He is always looking to play on a person’s weak points to get them to do what he wants. Since I am refusing to bow to his bidding, he may make you his next target. Reveal as little about yourself as possible to him; but, if such a course is unavoidable, then simply disregard any opinion he might have on what it is you hold dear.”
“...” Why does he find himself blushing at such a casually sly phrasing? Really, that’s the stuff of silly crushes, not deep and abiding love, right? And goodness can he ever hear the smile in her words. “I...well...yes, I suppose.”
Pao-Lin giggles and squeezes his hand. Hubert returns the gesture, but more firmly, as though he were drowning and she were his lifeline. Okay, that particular metaphor is rather hyperbolic for this situation, but the basic premise of it holds true. Even after five years away, even after knowing
he is a better man than his own adoptive father, Garrett Oswell holds an undue amount of influence over Hubert’s thoughts and emotions. There are no objections Garrett introduced tonight that Hubert himself had not already anticipated and countered in his own mind. While there are moments still where Hubert finds himself amazed at the path he has taken in Luceti, ultimately he regrets nothing about his life with Pao-Lin.
And yet, with Garrett in Luceti, Hubert can feel the familiar doubts and guilt and shame burrowing into him like maggots in a corpse. He doesn’t want to disappoint his father, even though said father is a manipulative wretch of a man. He doesn’t wish to shirk his duty to his adoptive family, even though the sentiment he holds towards them more resembles returning a favor rather than actual affection.
He doesn’t wish to be abandoned again, even though Garrett clearly needs him much more than he needs Garrett.
“You know I’ll leave if you want me to,” Pao-Lin says suddenly.
Hubert’s heart gives a painful jolt, as though Pao-Lin had confirmed she would do what she, in truth, had merely been offering. She speaks rather too cheerfully of such a sad proposition, too, but Hubert knows the emotional center it comes from. She only wishes to be as little of a burden on him as possible. This is not the first time they have discussed this issue.
It is this time, however, that reminds Hubert of what keeps him tethered to this strange, nameless prison of endless rebirth and reality shifting.
“I know,” he murmurs.
The rest of his answer goes unspoken, obvious as it is.
And Garrett is simply going to have to deal.Luceti plays by different rules than you are used to, Father.
And now I do, as well.