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Hates Children and Animals

Chapter 1.

It must have been a tragedy of a car ride. Already tense and trembling, the greyhound exploded at the sound of the first ring.

'Pol! Calm down! Down, oh, I'm so sorry, down!'

Skittering nails and white gums. Anders retreated until the dog realised the walls weren't moving however fast he circled, shuddering legs splayed on the vinyl and skinny tail tucked under in what Anders never referred to aloud as the typical sighthound don't rape me posture. Merrill went to her knees and waited, hand outstretched and eyes to the side. Once the gums lowered and the eyes softened, Anders inched past and buzzed back to reception.

'Lirene?'

'I told him we don't do cats. I showed him the sign, I gave him the number of the all hours clinic in Hightown, directions to the track vet just down the road. But he's still standing here, and he's been standing here for ten minutes, glaring at me. He won't even talk any more. I don't know what to do.'

Call the guard. Anders was tempted; the clock on the wall read ten past one. 'It's my lunchbreak, Lirene.'

'I can't even tell if the blood is his or his cat's.'

'Wonderful. Put him in two, I'll finish with Pol and go through. And get me a teriyaki or something from across the road? Please? Extra meat, extra rice.'

'Thank you, in two.' The primness told him there would be no teriyaki. Stale peanut biscuits and a cup of tea. Fuck it.

On the floor, cradling a greyhound in her lap almost as big as she was, Merrill looked as if Anders had just broken her heart. Those big eyes. The tone of her voice said something else entirely.

'I warned you he was still jumpy before we came in. You couldn't have told Lirene not to interrupt?'

Anders collected a handful of liver treats, making the rustling as obvious as possible, palming the blood collection tube with his other hand. Sepsis, but he'd been able to save the leg with Karl's generous antibiotic dispensary supplementing; it had been a tiny spider bite, but even those were bloody lethal in this city. 'He must be healing up well if he's feeling so spry.'

Merrill disdained to answer. Pol watched him approach warily, too knowing for a petrified greyhound. Putting it on, maybe. Anything for hugs and lapsitting?

'I suppose he's going to react to this in the same way he did last time?'

The reproachful look Merrill gave told Anders that any ensuing panic, staged or otherwise, would be firmly blamed on him.

Waiting in two was a sizable moggie pinioned to the exam table by two huge hands. Matted fur poked between the fingers, too bloody for markings to show. Ears flat, huge green eyes, a wide and feral bridge of nose. The yowling and growling was slow, constant and steady, claws sheathing and unsheathing against the table. Anders' stomach decided to join the chorus, the cat's growl pausing as it turned its head almost full circle to search the room for a rival. The tail lashed freely.

The owner was as large as his hands suggested, blood seeping steadily from a lucky swipe across the bridge of his nose, thin red lines ribboning bare forearms. Mostly interested in the cat, Anders saw not much more, apart from the beard. It was a difficult beard not to notice.

'Looks nasty. What happened?'

'I found him like this.'

'Not good.'

The owner muttered something, then said angrily, 'I know it's not good, that's why I brought him to the bloody vet.'

'Where's the blood coming from? Any observable injuries?'

'You want me to do your job for you? You're the vet. I can barely hold him.'

'It can be easier transporting cats in a box.'

'You're welcome to try.'

He probably didn't mean it to sound like a threat. Anders hoped. 'Who's his usual vet?'

'Dunno.'

'What's his name?'

'Dunno.'

Tableside manner. Client focused. Poor confused animals just needing a steady hand to calm them down and patch them up in this strange cruel world. Also the benefit of not being deported with an addition of grievous bodily harm to his criminal record. Anders took a breath.

'Is this your cat?'

'Not exactly.'

'Not exactly.'

The beard bristled. 'It's my neighbour's. He's away. I found the bugger like this, great clots of blood all over the pavement and in the pool. Hid in my dog's kennel, miaowing his head off, frightened the bloody dog off, too. Are you going to actually do something, or are we just going to stand here talking until the cat passes out from boredom?' Blue eyes, narrowed in annoyance.

'Right. Hold him steady.'

'What does it look like I'm doing?'

Anders examined the cat's ears first, with the cat snapping at him like a dog. Poor thing had an identity crisis. He found the tattoo inside the second, the microchip a tiny ricelike scar, and a quick swipe with the barcode reader revealed a Hightown address for home. Flash. It was also as far away from the clinic as possible, at least by car - but if the beard was lying about his neighborliness, it was none of Anders' business.

'Fenris.' The cat's ears twitched at his name, but he was not inclined to sniff Anders' fingers. Anders tried for a soothing rub of the nape, only for the growl to reach a disturbing level. 'All right, I get it. Not happy with the touching.'

With firmness combating the cat's fear, Anders opened the mouth, checked pale gums, noting a couple of jagged, broken teeth that would need attending; the huge green eyes were responsive to motion but not light. Shock, not too severe despite the cat's constant and vocal evidence; stethoscope worming between the not-owner's thick, calloused fingers to a sticky patch of fur. Lungs ok but breath too shallow, heart likewise too fast but steady, not skipping. Fingering gentle along the cat's taut abdomen, but there were no injuries there, no evident knots inside, the texture of the liver smooth, slightly swollen. No broken limbs, no evidence of rape or bites, furry testicles intact and not overly sensitive.

'That might be an answer.' Anders spoke mostly to himself, but the beard perked up.

'You found where he's hurt? There?' Tense, angry.

'Uh. No. But if there was any female cats in heat around, he might have got himself into a fight. Come out the best, by the looks of it. Either that, or he's a penchant for bathing in blood. I can't find an obvious injury.'

'Why won't he shut up?'

'Who knows? Maybe he's bragging.'

'Maybe you're incompetent.'

'He's in shock,' Anders said stiffly. 'That's obvious. So whatever the fight was, it's shaken him up. A lot.'

The beard seemed to wrestle with something internally. 'If the cat was maybe on drugs.'

'Are you serious? What have you done?'

'I didn't do anything. I told you, he belongs to my neighbour. I just found him.'

'Your "neighbour" is a thirty minute drive from here.'

'It's a big neighbourhood.'

'And a small city, so either you're lying or you came here specifically. What's really going on?' Anders pointed at the screen behind him, Fenris' address blinking green. 'I could report you for abuse if the cat's drugged. Not so many houses on the Esplanade, what with how big they all are.'

The mouth was a thin line. 'I heard there was a clinic around here that handles ex-race dogs. Fighting dogs. Rescue cases. This is a fighting cat, and I'm rescuing it.'

'You're rescuing it.'

'As of right now. I don't know how he got out of Danarius' estate, but he picked my yard to wander around yowling his bloody head off dripping gore. So it's my rescue cat. Report my neighbour if you want, just fix this bugger up.'

Anders struggled with something he called conscience. Cats would always be difficult for him.

'I'm keeping him in overnight,' Anders said steadily. 'I'll be running blood tests. You think it's amphetamines, steroids? No, look, don't tell me. Because dependent on what I find, I'm still reporting this, and you can do the explaining about whose cat it is. Leave your details with Lirene at reception. I trust you'll have no difficulty meeting the payment required.'

A brief, toothy grin which had nothing of the smile in it. 'I would shake your hand but the cat would probably go for grim vengeance. You want me to carry him somewhere, or are you going to handle him?'

Firmly wrapped in the man's hands, Fenris somewhat resembled an angry bloodsoaked skittle.

'You may as well come through.'

Fenris protested his immobilisation against the chest by biting at the huge hands. The beard winced a time or two, but for the most part was stoic, dourly incurious about the flaking linoleum in the corridor to the back room, the tread on the heavy boots lifting raw edges to expose concrete beneath. Anders wondered if the mood was the man's native state. Hiding worry for the cat? Or something worse. Maybe cats were his worst nightmare, too. More likely he was thinking about clots of blood scattered through his very expensive backyard. Being annoyed about having to get his pool guy out for a second time this week to clean up the gore. Lives of Kirkwall's rich and wealthy and their drugged fighting cats.

It was all very mysterious. Anders didn't need this.

The cage was meant for a small dog, but Fenris probably would have massacred anything up to the size and weight of a whippet, judging by the fight to put him into the cage. The cat pressed himself against the bars as if he could slot through, one paw waving forlornly if it wasn't for the bloody claws at the end, miaows turning mournful enough to break the heart. Manipulative little sod.

The beard contemplated Fenris dolefully, reluctant to leave.

'Sorry, cat. I'll deck the bastard one for you.'

Anders hesitated at the door. 'If you have a moment, come back into the exam room and I'll clean up those scratches. You'll have to watch the bites carefully, they can abscess. I'll tell you what to look for so you can go to your doctor—'

His hand was shrugged off, the back turned on him without concern. 'Doesn't matter. Thanks anyway.'

It was two o'clock. Anders was starving.

Continue to Chapter 2


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