Quinn retreated to her and Osiris' room when she left the galley. She is currently sitting by her trunk which it looks like has had things haphazardly thrown into it in a violent act of packing, but she has paused in the midst of her action. She is sitting with her legs folded underneath her and holding a tiny pair of knitted baby socks flattening them over and over again by smoothing them into the palm of her hand. She doesn't look up when Osiris enters.
Osiris collapses in a jumble of arms and legs in a corner of the room, his head bowed into his crossed arms.
"I'm sorry, Quinn." It's almost a mumble. "If I knew before today, I'd've told you before...before all this." He waves in the general direction of the baby socks but doesn't raise his head. "I thought it was just somethin' in the past - somethin' I didn't have to think about no more. Somethin' it was better I *didn't* think about no more, 'cause all the problems I had when I came on Black Cat were on account of thinkin' about it all the time - the fear, the pain, the guilt."
"Survivor's remorse, they call it. Why did I live when so many other people died? When it's a crash or some accident, at least you *know* you can't answer that question. Me, though, I know the answer. It's 'cause I was too evil to give up on living but not enough to like what I had to do to stay alive."
Osiris scratches the backs of his arms where the scars are hidden beneath his sleeves.
"We had a lot of drugs at the hospital. When things started to get bad, some of the doctors and nurses used them to get out of the hospital the only way anyone knew how. They died peaceful without having to torture or be tortured. I think we all thought about it, sometimes, but I never did it. I thought about my folks back on Isis, my sis, how they'd be so glad to see me if I could just stay alive for another day. Maybe someone in the Alliance would shut down the project tomorrow, and I'd be able to have a normal life. I must've been out of my mind to think I'd ever be able to have a normal life after the things I saw, but it held me together just barely. If I'd known about Isis while I was on Athens, I probably would've poisoned myself. Maybe someone I killed who still had something worth living for would've survived, instead, and maybe had a normalish life once he left the hospital."
"I thought...I thought I'd left it all behind like a madman I'd outdrew in a gunfight, the hole in his head steaming in the cold winter air. Livin' didn't make me a better man than him - just a faster hand with a gun. But when I left those self-mutilating gunslingers dead in the snow on Athens, I thought that was it. They were the last gunslinging cannibals out there, and there would never be no more. I was a gunslinger, but I weren't never quite a cannibal, even after all the things I saw and did to outdraw the ones who were."
Osiris scratches his scars more vigorously.
"But if someone's still out there kidnapping kids and women and men and feeding them to cannibals and rapists and torturers until they can either learn to rape and torture and eat each other or die in terrible agony... I think, I think of those kids we picked up. I used to think the slavers were just your usual awful folk who want a cheap workforce. But now I gotta wonder...wonder if we were hauling *food*. Food for people turned into animals, people who eat each other like animals. Maybe they wouldn't eat Summer or Mary Lou or one of the others, but instead those kids would grow up *expecting* to eat people. They'd see rape and torture as normal. They'd become self-mutilating gunslingers like the ones I had to kill on Athens. Like the one I almost *became* before they closed the hospital down."
Osiris abruptly stops scratching his arms. A dot of blood soaks through one sleeve. He stares at it in horror for a moment before putting his head in his hands.
"Maybe you're right. Maybe I should just let my past stay forgotten. I'm just one man, and not even a very brave one. What can I do against the entire Alliance?"
Quinn puts the baby socks down, very deliberately in her trunk and turns her head slowly toward Osiris. Then she tips forward until she is on her hands and knees and crawls over to the corner where he is sitting. After months of practice it is easy for her to wiggle her way into his embrace, despite him being all curled up in a ball. She makes him lean his head back so that she can tuck hers in her customary place under his chin with her ear against his chest, to hear his heart still beating. and she wraps the arm she in not supporting herself with over his stomach.
"I ain't mad at you for not telling it all to me. I ain't blamin you for wantin to go search it out now that Dax has done said to you what he's done said to you. I ain't disgusted at nothin' you done. I ain't never gonna leave ya because of nothing that's in your past. My heart is filled to burstin with love for you, no matter nothin that happened. Yer the bravest man I know having that follow you in yer past, yet being able to find somethin pretty to look at in the right now and bein willin to go back toward it if it means that no one else has to have it to."
She falls silent and it takes a moment before Osiris feels a cool spot on his chest and notices a slight hitch in her breath. "But I just got you all healed up," she says so quietly that Osiris feels it in his chest more than hearing it. "And I know that if we go after this it's going to tear you all apart again. I know you. You might say you can't do nothin. But yer just that good enough to make lots of things happen, to find out lots of things no one wants you to know." A beat while she catches her breath. "What if I can't put you back together again? Maybe it's selfish, but I don't care about any of them someone elses if it means that I lose you savin them. I don't care about them."
Osiris hugs Quinn back gently, smoothing her hair and rubbing her back with familiar fondness.
"I wish Dax had kept his gorram mouth shut about all this! He was just shuffling names in a ledger - so many people dead and in need of an explanation that would keep the families from talking. But I was *in* Dionysus Hospital. All those names in his ledger were people to me. Some of them tried to kill me, and I sure killed a bunch of them. Others just died for no gorram good reason. But I had to watch them die. I saw their faces as the blood poured out of their necks or chests, waited for their eyes to glaze over. I courted madness and death every minute I was in there."
"If that pencil-necked paper-pusher got sick to his stomach looking at those lists of names, he just had to close the ledger and call it quits for the night. Me? I had to bury my victims with my own hands if I didn't want to look at their dead faces anymore. Dax thinks *he's* been struggling with his guilt? Hell, I've lived every day in the knowledge that I'm only alive today because I managed to convince a bunch of Reavers that I was crazier and more depraved than they were."
There is fury in Osiris's voice, which gets louder as he talks about this.
"Now *he* can't make peace until he finds out the truth he's been runnin' from all these years. So what does he do? Use his Alliance contacts to track down this new Dionysus Project? Risk his own neck and sanity to atone for his sins? No. He goes through his old ledger and finds the name of someone who survived. And he sends *me* to find out the truth so *he* can take his holier than thou vows with a clear conscience. Gorram it, that's the moral equivalent of the lawyer who kept getting the serial killer sprung on a technicality asking one of the few folks who didn't quite get killed by the mad slasher to track down the killer who tried to murder him!"
Osiris sighs heavily, and his voice drops to a much lower volume.
"Now I'm all mixed up, Quinn. I could've lived the rest of my life just fine thinkin' the Dionysus Project was dead and buried. A part of me still thinks we should just let this whole thing slide and go back to Verbena. But the thought that it's still out there is like a flame, and I'm a moth. I keep sayin' how all I want to do is stop anyone else from havin' to live like I've lived, but there's somethin' more to it than that, I think. Maybe I want to find out who did all those things to me and my family and hurt them the way they hurt me and mine. And maybe I just want to finally understand why anyone would do such a thing."
"They used us, and none of us knew what they were usin' us for. We thought maybe they were tryin' to make shock troops to fight the Browncoats. But with the War over and peace lookin' to stay a spell, there ain't no reason to make psychotic shock troops, especially if you have to kill fifty people for each soldier you breed. The other likely theory was that we were guinea pigs in some ludicrous psychology experiment designed by a madman, and the Alliance didn't know how bad things had gotten at Dionysus. But the Alliance *knew*. They arrested us all and put us on trial. Several of the people involved got the death penalty. So that theory's all full of holes, if the Alliance kept the project runnin' after the War. It don't make a lick of gorram sense for there to still be a Dionysus Project."
"I dunno. I think maybe the incident on Newhall reminded Dax of all the stories his preachers told him about Hell when he was a kid, and he realized he was pretty well assured of winding up there if he didn't find forgiveness in Jesus, 'cause it was a whole lot easier than facing the families of all those people who died in that hospital and telling them the truth about the Dionysus Project. Possibly all that fear of lakes of fire drove Dax completely bugshit insane. Too little too late, I'd say, but I reckon God's more forgivin' than I am. Maybe he made up that transfer paperwork to convince himself that he can still atone for the atrocities he covered up during the War - like proving to me that he's willing to do something to stop the Dionysus Project *now* will somehow make up for all the names he quietly crossed out of his ledger *then*."
"It stands to reason that this whole thing'll turn out to be a well-payin' wild goose chase. We'll poke around, find nothin', and then deliver Dax the good news that he has done everythin' he can to shut down the Dionysus Project and that he can take his vows with a clear conscience. I'm really hopin' we're just doin' this on account of Dax's mental illness. What's one more crazy Shepherd in this great 'Verse, right? 'Cause the alternative is...unthinkable."
"But if it turns out the Dionysus Project is still runnin' somewhere, I want to know *why*. And then I mean to find out *who*. And that who had better hope our paths never cross. They say the Reaper sometimes lets folks challenge him to a game of chess, and if they win, he lets them live long enough to tie up loose ends before harvestin' them. The man who'd run an operation like Dionysus Hospital would get no such chance with me."
Osiris grimaces and then breaks into a wry smile.
"Did I just imply that I have less pity than Death? Maybe the Alliance named me better than I realized when they took away everything I was? The sort of creature that thinks nothing of killing the firstborn son of everyone in a country just to prove a point?"
"Nah. I'm not really the vengeful type. I might blow out his brains if he really deserved it, but no matter how remorseless he might be, I doubt I'd even set him adrift for Reavers to pick up. It wouldn't bring back my sister, right? Besides, this mysterious human monster probably isn't even alive anymore, or if he is, he's probably spending his life in some bughouse in the Core. Dax may be crazy, or maybe he's just wrong. Either way, chances are we won't find any sign of the Dionysus Project on Haven or anywhere else in the 'Verse."
Osiris rubs Quinn's back soothingly.
Quinn tilts her head back and kisses Osiris on the edge of his jaw. "I ain't gonna do anything like this for Dax. I ain't gonna do anything like this for money. If it comes to doing this, it's only gonna be because you got the need. But you gotta promise me that if it is about gettin' revenge you ain't gonna let it burn you all up inside until you ain't got nothin' left but that. Too many time I heard about men who look for revenge and find themselves without nothin' at the end. A lot of thems got women who's dedicated to them at the beginning. And I don't know just what you could do to get me to go away from you. I don't believe that it is possible. But it was that way in the stories, and it was you as told me them stories has got some rootin' in truth
"Dax can go to hell and so can the rest of the Alliance, the Syndicate, and anyone that ain't my family."
Osiris kisses Quinn back.
"Don't worry your pretty head over me too much, Quinn. It ain't about revenge. Revenge is about hurtin' someone because of somethin' they did to you in the past. That really ain't my thing. If it was, I think someone out there would've taken away a whole lot more than my identity and my medical license afore now."
"But the idea of the Dionysus Project bein' out there somewhere makes me really angry. Best word for it's outrage. Outrage is about stopping something terrible that's happening to people *right now*. Outrage might make a man say the same sorts of things about wantin' to hurt people responsible as vengeance, but they're not much alike else. If the Dionysus Project is still goin' on, outrage means I have to try to stop it. I don't much care whether that means convincin' Parliament to shut it down, tellin' the 'Verse about it until someone out there does something, or blowin' out the brains of every Huen Dahn involved until they ain't got enough staff to run the place no more. I'm not interested in makin' no one suffer. I just want to *stop* people from sufferin'."
"If you're worried I'll get obsessed and lose sight of the important things, I've got an inkling. Dax is payin' us to investigate, right? It's blood money, and I think we should try not to spend our share on anythin' except medical supplies for when we get back to Verbena, and we'll use them on people who can't afford to pay us even in chickens and potatoes. But anyway, as I was sayin', Dax is payin' us a lot for this, but he ain't makin' no money on Bernadette. Eventually, he's gotta run outta money, right? How about we search for the Dionysus Project, but if we don't find any proof of it before Dax runs out of money, we just walk away from the whole thing and never look back?"
"Of course, as soon as your time comes - or maybe some months before, if you'd rather - we're done with this wild goose chase even if Dax has a million credits in the bank. I ain't riskin' your neck and mine once we've got a baby to look after."
"I guess what I'm saying is I really feel like I gotta accept Dax's job, no matter how crazy that might seem, considerin'. But I don't want you to think for a minute that it comes before family, in my book. I thought my chance of bein' happy in life was gone when I left Athens. I reckon you're the only chance this 'Verse will give me for a normal life - the kind of life I dreamed of havin' before I left Isis all them years ago. And I ain't about to spit in the face of this marvelous opportunity, especially not after what I went through to get here."
"Gettin' your brother's approval was probably the *least* of the obstacles between me and the happiness I found with you."
Quinn can't help herself as she mimics Osiris' grin with a smile of her own. she pulls his arm more securely around herself and rests his hand on the little bump in her abdomen. "I have missed flyin' sore. I love Verbena, but it's hard puttin down roots when mine're always wanting to move around. And I missed the Black too. Ain't nothin' makes me feel the way that bein out in the Black does. I reckon yer idea ain't a bad one. If'n you ain't gonna rest peaceful-like if yer always wonderin' about this here thing, then we have to find out about it- we might as well make some money chasin' it up. At least this ways, we'll be doin' it with our crew.
"Funny how some things can change a person. Few months back and I would'a been yellin' at Nicholas that we got to take this one up and go puttin' our nose in horrible smellin business and he'da been weighin just how much he was gonna lose if'n we went after it all. Now alls I wanna do is feel safe. But I guess we ain't gonna feel that way if we don't know the truth of it."
She looks up at him. "But you know that if'n we open this door more there ain't gonna be no walkin' away from it until we can close the door without havin it rattle or scream or knock at us. You know that we're gonna have to see it through to some end. It won't matter how far along I am, or just how dangerous it is starting to look, this is gonna be like the storage closet down behind the medical bay- when you open it, it ain't possible to get everything back in again until it's all organized and re-arranged to work all nice together. Or you take enough stuff out to make all the rest lie peaceful-like. You know that?"
Osiris rubs Quinn's belly.
"Oh, I want to put to rest any Reavers in the closet. Don't you worry none on that count. I'm just acknowledgin' that Dax might be loony, and we might find less in all this than we did lookin' for the Newhall Leviathan for that fine dining guy. I ain't about to spend my life - or all yours - roaming the 'Verse lookin' for somethin' that probably don't exist."
"There's a huge difference between putting to rest old ghosts and digging up cemeteries because one of them might have a ghost in it somewhere. We'll look, sure. We'll look high and low even if it gets a mite dangerous. But I ain't basin' my whole life on lookin' for the Dionysus Project or findin' out who was in charge of it. I'd like to find out all the whos, whats, and whys, if I can, but if I can't, I'd be satisfied just knowin' that no one's tryin' to make Reavers out of innocent folk."
Osiris sighs heavily.
"Of course, it could just be that I really want to know, but I'm afraid of what I'll find out. And I'm also scared of what might happen if someone finds out how much my crew knows about all this. The Alliance folk warned me not to tell anyone about the Dionysus Project. They told me anyone I told would be in great danger. It's been years, though. Maybe they've forgotten I exist, and maybe things have changed, and they don't really consider what I know dangerous to them anymore. A lot changes in ten years, you know? But when I think maybe they meant what they said, I get real worried for everyone on Black Cat - and you in particular. And I think I might die if they take you and the baby away from me. I don't think I can bear losin' everyone I love, again."
"Ain't you gotta worry about nothin' happenin to us," Quinn says, indicating their child. "And ain't you gotta worry about no one takin me away from you. We're joined now." She lays her left hand over his and pats it gently. "The only thing that can keep me from you is me, and that ain't ever gonna happen. There may be times when we ain't in the same room, but that's as far as it's gonna get. We're strong together; stronger than anyone else might guess or know."
"This crew's done put Si'quin's past to rest, and mine and Jaya's, even Birgitta's. I guess it wouldn't be rightly fair if'n we didn't put some attention on yours." She sighs. "So I guess we're gonna be startin' at Haven." After a pause she says, "but I'm only doin' this for you."