"You've got to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight."
The shopping trip into Shadow hadn't exactly been a disaster, Quinn reminded herself as she and Connie came through the Trump to the main gates, but it could have gone much better.
They headed off to get ready, making a short side trip to check on Luke.
They found him seated at an easel in the middle of his room. Attention focused entirely on his project, he didn't see them so they stood quietly in the doorway. She noted the fresh bandages wrapped around his midsection.
When he finally noticed them, she commented dryly, "You seem to be looking a bit more alive."
He made a face at her. "It's fine. I even took the stitches out."
"Well, as long as you're not going to fall over on your face..." she teased.
Those pleasantries aside, Luke asked, "So how did you your talk with Dworkin go?"
"Um, it didn't." Quinn suddenly felt nervous. I really don't want to tell him that I dragged his son into another Universe. Probably wasn't quite what he meant when he said "watch him."
"What did you do, then?"
"We went to Corwin's Pattern," Connie jumped in.
"I wanted to see if maybe what was going on in RoseAmber might be reflected in Dad's Primal Pattern," she added quickly, but not quite quickly enough before Connie said, "But we saw Dworkin in Corwin's universe!"
Quinn wanted to crawl under a table. "Luke, I swear that if I'd had any inkling his theory was going to work, I wouldn't have taken him."
Connie turned on her, all indignant. "Oh, and you're supposed to just go off to Corwin's Universe all by yourself?"
"I didn't say that..."
The argument faded after a few minutes, and Quinn decided to disappear while she could, leaving father and son to talk.
She detoured to the infirmary, but there was little there she could do. Jade was still heavily sedated, and Random, after briefly regaining consciousness, had been hustled off to the Royal quarters.
Might as well stop putting off the inevitable and get ready for this damned party.
Back in her room, she laid out her new acquisition, regarding it with a mixture of delight and apprehension. The dress was of a simple design; a scoop neck, just slightly off the shoulders, it would cover the scars across her back, and the long tapered sleeves would do the same for those claw-marks on her arms.
She had foregone all the lace and frippery, but the deep burgandy velvet contrasted nicely with the pale green underskirt. Chuckling, she remembered the last time she'd worn anything like this. It'd been her Confirmation, and Damien Vryce had demanded that for once in her adult life, he'd like to see her actually attempt to look feminine. Come to think of it, that had been the last time she'd danced too, and that had been, oh, nine years ago?
Well, with any luck, she thought as she began to dress, I won't make too much of a fool of myself.
She examined the finished product in the mirror, self-consciously smoothing the full skirts. This is just not my scene, folks. With a sigh, she ran her fingers through her short cropped hair, admonished herself for being afraid of a simple social event (Think of them as a bunch of demonlings... umm, maybe not), and left.
The party was in full swing when she arrived. She wandered aimlessly for a few minutes, until she caught sight of Jessica and Simon, to whom she related the current RoseAmber theories.
It was about this time that Vialle came in, and announced the performance of a ballad in honor of the event.
It went over well, and she found herself moved away from her cousins by the flow of the happy crowd.
She eventually found herself seated with Julian and Gerard, discussing the finer points of the Battle, when Vialle once again ascended the dias.
"It is my great pleasure to award our heros with with the Order of the Unicorn."
The assembled guest cheered, and Julian raised an appreciative brow. "Congratulations."
"Thank you," she said, rising to join her compatriots, and wishing she knew the exact significance of the honor.
Quinn moved through the presentation of the medals, most of her attention focused on not tripping on the hem of her skirt. She left the stage without embarrassing incident, and as soon as it seemed polite, slipped back into the pale anonymity of the partygoers.
Once again she made a point of staying to the outskirts of the crowd, but well- wishers found her still. The effort of smiling politely and looking the part of the happy heroine was beginning to make her head ache when she ran across Connie.
He was looking quite cheery, his medal of the Order of the Unicorn proudly displayed on his chest. Her hand went to her own medal sitting at the neckline of her dress, and she grinned at her cousin. In reply, he bowed slightly. "May I have this dance?"
"I haven't done this in quite some time, I warn you..."
"That's okay. I haven't done this ever."
She couldn't help but laugh. "All right, but you lead."
He pulled her onto the dance floor, spending as much time watching other dancers to figure out what he was doing as he spent watching his own feet.
"I told Simon and Jessica about our little jaunt this morning," she commented once he actually looked at her.
She winced slightly at the hurt tone in his voice.
"You don't gotta protect me," he continued.
And the argument continued anew.
Connie was on the verge of actually convincing her she should take him along when two figures appeared next to them.
Luke and Darien.
They reached her simultaneously, and in unison asked, "May I have this dance?"
And then immediately fell to arguing who had asked first.
"Excuse me, Connie." She squeezed between them, and shoved them apart. "Gentlemen, please."
She sounded mortified. They stopped, looking a bit surprised at the interruption, and she took the opportunity to drag them off to the side, so they weren't the center of attention.
She stood, staring at each of them in turn. "What are you two doing?" she hissed.
They seemed about to start the argument again, but the look on her face convinced them that wasn't the best move. So instead...
"You go ahead, Luke."
"No, you, Darien."
Gritting her teeth in an effort not to use expletives quite inappropriate for public announcement, she closed her eyes. "Eenie, meenie, miney, moe."
She was pointing at Luke.
There was a tense, silent pause, broken when Darien stepped back and bowed his acquiescence to Quinn's decision, though he still glared narrowly at Luke. "Of course. Maybe I will see you later, then." He spun and walked away.
Quinn sighed, extending a hand to Luke. "Shall we, then?"
Luke took her outstretched hand and pulled her towards him.
"As I told your son, I haven't done this in quite some time," she remarked.
His only reply was his characteristic mischievous grin as he whirled her onto the dance floor. Luke's skill quite made up for her own lack of knowledge, and she quickly relaxed and stared to enjoy herself. She genuinely enjoyed spending time with Luke. He was charming, funny, he put up with her barbs - and Connie was right. He was cute. And when he let his guard down, she got a glimpse of someone she could see herself falling for...
"I was on my way to find you first," he started.
But then sometimes...
"Really. And I'll bet he saw me and hurried up to cut me off."
Even though she knew better, she had to ask. "Luke, why would he do that?"
"Just to piss me off."
"And why would he want to do that? As far as I know, you two had never met each other until three days ago!"
He at least had the decency to look a bit sheepish. "Well, there's just some people out there who rub you the wrong way..."
"Are you sure that all there is to it?"
He studiously avoided meeting her eyes as he answered, "I don't have any idea what you're talking about."
He moved them among the other dancers with an easy grace. The ever-active clinical corner of her mind noted the lack of residual stiffness in his movements with approval. She knew that her continual concern over the wound irked him, but she was still kicking herself for having missed it in her initial exam.
Besides, she worried. Wouldn't anyone, given the circumstances?
She thought back to Connie's revelation of the previous day, and to the little scene between Luke and Darien a few minutes before. Objectively, she could definitely see a rivalry for her attention, but the entire idea of anyone fighting over her made her distinctly uncomfortable. God, I wish Connie hadn't said that to me! She still thought her cousin was seeing things, and now she was never sure how to act around Luke.
"So you thought anything more about what you told me earlier?"
She started slightly at the sound of his voice, and felt her face flush a bit. "Oh, a little."
When the music ended he excused himself with a courtly bow, and as he walked away she felt a faint rush of disappointment, which only caused her to flush red again.
Maybe I should go find Darien...
Her quarry was staring out a window, lost in thought. He didn't react when she walked up next to him, so she gently tapped him on the shoulder. He looked almost as surprised to see it was her, as she had been to see him earlier in the evening.
"Would you mind trying to explain what the heck it is between you two?"
He grinned. "Whatever do you mean?"
Scowling, she poked him in the arm. "You know exactly what I mean. You, Luke, and the fact that the two of you can't seem to be in the same room without being at one another's throats."
"Ah, that," Darien chuckled. "Part of it, I think, is that there aren't many people I trust. And he did try to kill off a number of Amberites," he blithely pointed out.
Quinn decided not to remind him that Luke had also turned himself in.
"And part of it may be that we just rub each other the wrong way," he finished, shrugging.
"I think it's just some macho male competition thing."
He looked cryptic. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"That was the answer I expected," she smirked.
Darien just smiled brilliantly, and Quinn had to fight a sudden urge to kick him in the shin. "Look, could you just try not to fight with each other?" she pleaded.
"Thank you," she sighed in relief. "Now, may I take you up on that offer of a dance?" A grin quirked the corner of her mouth, ruining her attempt at sternness. For all their attempts to prove the opposite. Darien and Luke were far more alike than either of them would ever admit.
Laughing, he bowed and took her hand. "Of course."
They chatted amiably. She knew his egotistical air drove at least Connie to distraction, but she'd never really noticed it much when they were together. Except when Luke was around, of course. She wasn't sure why, but she felt she could trust the Rebman. Might have something to do with bonding over a dead cousin... And she still remembered those feelings her Knowing had picked up from him. Ambivalence, admiration, envy. An enigma, Darien was, but at least one that was on her side.
When the song ended he excused himself, and she spent the next half hour in a lengthy discussion of with Jessica, which included the waking dream Jess had had about Darien having a Pattern imprint. Eventually Jess excused herself and went to Mandor, and Quinn wandered off to mull over that interesting bit of information.
That was when she ran across a dour looking Connie.
"You don't look to happy."
"Darien said something out of line."
She sighed. She was doing that a lot this evening. "Darien's harmless, Connie. Just ignore him."
"I dunno. Darien was looking at you like a conquest. I didn't like it."
She had to laugh at that. "Darien might find that a bit difficult."
"Well, yeah, but I don't think it's gonna stop him."
"And I still think it's crazy."
"You should be flattered," he said, "being chased like this and all."
More like mortified if they keep up like this. "I just don't understand either of them see in me. I'm not exactly their type."
"Well, I can kinda see it, ya know? You're different. You're not like the rest of the women in Amber, like them." he gestured at the crowd.
"And Jess is?" she teased gently, trying to cover her own discomfort at the turn the conversation was taking.
Connie made a face at her. "No, Jess is different too, but in a different way. Talking to Jess is like talking to a sponge, you know stuff is getting absorbed, but you don't get anything back. Talking to you, stuff gets bounced back..." That wasn't working too well, he noticed, so he switched tactics.
"Jess is all interested and worried about military stuff. You, you're more interested in individual people. You care about people. That shows in talking to you. And I think that's what my dad noticed."
"If you say so, Connie." She hoped to God she wasn't blushing.
But she was saved from continuing the conversation when the trumpets blared, and in came Random.
He spoke, but she noted immediately that something wasn't right. His speech was halting, and his focus did not seem to be with his words. And only a few moments later, he was escorted back out. Not good, not good at all. I don't think he's recovered completely...
The excited crowd had separated her from Connie, and by the time she found him again, he was seated at a table talking to Darien. Uh, oh...
She joined them, and conversation drifted to the popular topic of an expedition into Corwin's Universe when a familiar voice joined in. Dworkin.
Quinn froze, tensed as if to react to some danger.
His expression changed as he looked at them. Sadness, concern, and even a bit of remorse. "You all look so grin and sad." He shook his head. "Not good." He shook his head mournfully. "Maybe..."
He looked thoughtful for a few minutes. "Things have improved with the destruction of that other Pattern." It was a grudging admission, and Dworkin paused briefly. "I will rescind my command that Corwin's Pattern be destroyed."
Quinn suddenly couldn't breathe, as if something had hit her in the solar plexus.
"I don't like it," he added quickly, waggling his finger at them, but the admonition had lost something, "but I can deal with it."
She didn't hear much of what was said next, her head reeling. But eventually she managed to get out, "Dworkin, is my father alive?"
Instead of answering, Dworkin looked off. some of her earlier tension returned, and she could feel the muscles across her shoulders tighten reflexively. But after a moment the old man turned back to her. "Yes, I think so."
Some more of the tension left her, and she gathered enough of her composure to question him about the incident in RoseAmber.
"Could have been me. I've been there before. But I might not have gone again yet."
She dropped her head into her hands. She just didn't know how to deal with the wizened little man.
She managed to drag some information about the situation there, and the reasons she and Connie hadn't found RoseAmber. Like maybe it had moved... But then Dworkin's attention shifted.
"Mmmhmmm... what's that?" He was pointing at Frakir, curled around Connie's wrist.
"Oh, that's Frakir," Connie said as he unwrapped it from his arm and handed it to Dworkin. "It's Merlin's."
"Have you decided what to do about Merlin?" The old man looked up at Quinn.
The question took her a bit by surprise. "Uh, no, not really. I'm still hoping he'll recover.
Dworkin examined the bracelet, playing with it as Connie explained its significance. "Hmm. Some level of sentience." Eventually he handed it back, and rose to leave, but a few steps later, he turned back, to Quinn. "The answer to what to about your brother maybe closer than you think."
"Dworkin... Thank you." And she truly meant it
Nodding, he vanished into the crowd.
She looked down. Her hands were shaking, and for some inexplicable reason, she felt tears in her eyes. I won't cry, dammit! Not in front of everyone! She buried her head in her arms, and felt a comforting hand settled on her shoulder.
It was now a different game.
"Who will bring you back from where there's no return?
Fear not, for you're just dreaming..."
--Sarah McLachlan, "Ben's Song"