Hates Children and Animals
Anders collected his lunch before work from the truckstop across the road, an ambiguous curry intended to keep until midday. He hoped. As a strategy to combat his usual lunchbreak overruns, it had a variable level of success and tended to keep him thin.
When fresh off the boat, Anders had taken advantage of Kristoff's better days to indulge his paranoia about filling the requirements of his tourist visa. For a so-called holy city, he found few places suitable for a spiritual stocktake. The docks were mercantile, functional and mostly ugly. The Chantry had no sight of the refugees flooding the city or the city's homegrown poor, who might have actually benefited from a sister's attentions. Hightown was an artefact out of context, shaped by a wealth of history that no longer applied. The cars parked centrally along cobbled medians cost more than Anders had earned in his lifetime. Even Lowtown was radially planned as if to deliberately confuse strangers, and none of Anders' knowledge of the Fereldan hierarchy of roads applied. Depressed, the sound of jackhammers flooding Lowtown made him think of rattlesnakes in the grass, the constant threat of industry devouring any personality that might have softened the streets. No clothing hung between narrow buildings, no sunlight braved the scaffolding.
Accepting Karl's offer of a job, Anders had felt shocked to numbness at the sights on the way to Darktown. And the clinic itself, which Karl seemed to regard with no particular shock. Uninhabitable on one side, with a bright gleeful sign on the other, a stylish render of a running greyhound, a streetlight with a dangling, if functional globe, fresh parking lines, cracked asphalt, and a completely absurd, sparklingly new parking meter cemented into a crack in the kerb. Convenient to both the legal racetracks down the road and the illegal pits on the city's outer limits, tenements overshadowed the place just off the main strip, cutting any chance of a breeze. A tiny patch of visible sky, no horizon. The triangular patch of land bridged between an oily inlet, the city's main truck route, and the trainline coming in from regional mines.
On occasion, the trains and trucks conspired to let a silence fall. Every time the sheer unlikelihood of finding calm struck Anders like a bell, and he felt like he had seen the face of someone else's creator. Even in this mess. He might have sold Andraste's inverted sword along with his necklace years ago, but the dogma stuck.
He strolled across the silent road and went around the back way to say hello to the dogs.
'What did you say to him?' The kettle boiled fitfully, vulnerable to the fluctuating electricity.
'Oh, I doubt that. Think back, three days ago. Our Garrett Hawke. Or as I like to call him, Forbes' Fictional Sixteenth.'
Anders blinked at her.
'Maker, Anders, you need to get out more. The billionaire with the cat. The too good to be true rags to riches story? There was that awful unauthorised biography about a year ago, before he turned around and bought every copies off the shelf, then bought the publishing rights off the author. Cheaper than lawyers, he said. It was all over the papers.'
Whatever expression he wore, Lirene's classical scorn faded. He was thinking of those great boots, worn soles, the dirt on tatty denim hems.
'You really didn't know?'
'I'm not into popular fiction. Hey. Hey! Send him that second invoice for Fenris' board. Bastard thinks he can walk out of here without paying—'
'That's what I was saying,' Lirene said, irritated. 'He called just then and paid. With interest. He said you forgot to give him the invoice in the rush last night. He was...um. Trying to be charming. I think. With interest, Anders! No one else even bothers to read the terms.'
A sinking feeling. 'He didn't make another appointment, did he?'
'Tuesday fortnight, 11am. Oh, don't look so disgruntled. With the street dogs you take in, it's not that often we have paying clients. Not to mention the trainers who don't cough up when their race favourite dies. Maybe you could talk him into a contribution?'
'Not likely. It'd be blood money.'
A pitying look. 'This is Kirkwall, Anders. It's all blood money.'
'That's what I like about this place. Snap judgements always apply.'
'Let me guess. You couldn't be bothered finding another vet. No, wait. You couldn't even pay someone to find you another vet?'
'Contrarily. I tried one down the road.'
A compelling silence. 'And?'
'I wasn't impressed. Neither was Fenris.'
Not necessarily a compliment, coming from Garrett Hawke. Too good to give his money to anyone but another Fereldan. I should tell him I'm not. If I cared.
'Well, you're late anyway. I was enjoying the lull, hoped you'd forgotten.'
'Forgotten you, with your charm and personable manner? Not likely.' Garrett waited until he closed the exam room door before he made a move to unzip the leather jacket. Fenris leapt for the opening as soon as it was given, bounced off the exam table and resolved huddled in the sink, glaring over the lip.
'Fenris decided to make a break for it.' Almost an apology. 'It took me a while to convince him to come back. He hates it inside.'
Anders went to flank the sink, Fenris tracking him warily. 'So don't keep him inside.'
'And him unsterilised. What sort of a vet do you call yourself.'
'One disinterested in domestic animal control policy in the face of worse atrocities. Anyway, the lyrium would have sterilised him for a good few months.' Anders managed to get a hand on Fenris, then under him, bringing him back to the table with only minimal protest. The jacket's open zipper caught Anders' eye.
'You've a bit of hair on your chest.'
Garrett examined the clumps Fenris had left. 'Heh. Thought you were flirting for a minute.'
And of course that would be so repulsive. Anders bit back the grin, which would have been more of a teeth-in-throat promise than anything more human and civilised. He'd been around dogs too long.
Beneath the fur, Fenris' skin crawled against Anders' palm, a hundred tiny points flinching and skittering. The cat tried to bite him again, which Anders combated with the authority of a finger smacked across the black nose. The pupils were huge, gums pale. Fenris flinched and yowled, but not from the finger. Finding and hearing the fluttering heartbeat made Anders' chest ache in sympathy.
'It's the third time he's run away. Had to jump the fence to get him back.'
A spontaneous volunteering of information, however dour. 'He runs home again? I suppose you are right next door.'
'You...think he's trying to get to the lyrium?'
'I think he's succeeded in getting lyrium. Yesterday, if anything. You didn't notice the aggression, the hyperactivity?'
A further disgruntled silence, utterly discouraging. Anders clamped his mouth shut on the urge to console. Not like it's his brother. Just a cat.
'When can you do his teeth?'
'Um.' Karl had cleared his calendar tomorrow, but a bottle of something sweet and a late night, he wouldn't be upset. Not that Karl was ever upset. Anders mostly acted to appease his own conscience. 'This has to be out of his system before we put him under. You have to keep him indoors for another two, say, three weeks. Unless you want me to keep him here again.' Now why even make the offer? Fenris had no underlying conditions, and lyrium on its own didn't get risky enough to need hospitalisation for years.
Garrett contemplated, shook his head. 'I've got used to the company. I should get a cat tray, or something, he usually makes a break for it when I take him and the dog out for their business.' The nose wrinkled across the bridge, where the thin cat scratch had scarred white amongst the weatherlines.
'It's not easy, him withdrawing. Keep him hydrated more than anything, with wet food if he's not touching the water. Cats sometimes don't. Keep the dog away. Give him things to grip and tear; he ripped through seven mattresses when he was here. And some dog toys.'
Faintly impressed. The big hand curled over Fenris' trembling back, avoiding Anders' hands where he held the cat cupped under chest and over the haunches. 'Explains the sundries item on your bill.'
'There's,' shit, 'substitutes you could give him.' What I am doing. 'I could order some in.' Or steal Kristoff's. What was wrong with him?
'Now, that's interesting. Because if lyrium doesn't exist, makes me wonder how treatment exists.'
'Ah, you know medical fraternities, medical franchises. Think of it as a secret sauce recipe, there's always a generic version.' There was no way he should be saying this to the owner of a lyrium mine. Surana would kill him if she knew.
Garrett seemed inclined to stand there stroking his cat, and occasionally (accidentally) Anders' hand. A whiff of distressed zoo when he leaned forward, from the well worn leather jacket rather than the cat. Probably wears a wifebeater, sweats years into the jacket's lining. Fooling no one.
Fenris meowed, then sighed hugely and went limp. They looked down together.
'So. You'll be back in three weeks. Same day, same time?'
'Yeah, probably.' A long pause. 'He trusts you. Sort of. You should have seen what he did to that vet when she whipped out a thermometer. Thought I'd be seeing another summons to court. Nothing like a bit of bestial GBH to spice the socialites' section of the Financial Times.'
Grinning despite himself, Anders helped Garrett zip the jacket closed when Fenris decided to play kangaroo on departure, claws punching through lining and leather both.
Two days later, no appointment. Anders was locked in three with Merrill and a wolfhound she collected from the slums. The wolfhound whimpered helplessly while Anders cleaned the half-chewed tail, the sound both human and not human, an unmistakeable a plea to stop. The sound got to Anders, his sheer helplessness to combat the dog's pain and confusion. Fix the obvious wounds, stop the bleeding. Even in medical school, his inclinations were for surgery or ICU than anything involving people.
He walked Merrill and her stumbling companion to the kennels, ducking into two when she took over settling the dog with familiar blankets.
'Sorry about that. What's happened?'
The jacket this time was a truly horrible lumberjack's affair, unzipped to disgorged a limp Fenris, ungroomed, fur matted and soiled. He curled into a ball as soon as his feet touched the table. He looked like he'd meowed himself mute, creaky groans emerging from the open jaw.
Whether it was the wait, or the dog's whimpering from before, Garrett was restless. While Anders checked Fenris over, he moved around the room, touching posters years out of date, flicking his thumbnail over the locks on the painted wood drawers.
'Hello? I can't read the cat's mind, you know.'
'You're not any good at full disclosure, are you? If I'd had the barest idea what that would be like— How much would that substitute cost?' Subdued, almost apologetic.
Anders remembered what Kristoff went through. Twice, even, once when still on the front with nothing but Anders' hand to help. He felt a bit of sympathy for those shadows under Garrett's eyes. But— Always doing the wrong thing, for the right reasons. He'd resigned himself to failure years ago.
'He's over the worst now. I can't see any point prescribing—'
'You don't understand. I couldn't do anything for him. I don't like being helpless.'
'You don't like being helpless? Sorry, what's this to do with you? This is about the cat.'
Garrett scrubbed his nose, brows lowering. In the silence, Anders could hear Merrill speaking to Lirene outside, lilting yet firm. Instructions for the dog, which Lirene would politely nod at and ignore.
'If you really want to do something, I'd suggest some alternative therapies, calming techniques without needing medication.'
'For a cat? Are you serious?' Disgust. 'I'll bring him along to my yoga classes, shall I? We can ponce about together communing with our inner selves.'
Anders wanted to get angry. Fuckhead. But he remembered the blood on Garrett's arms and nose, the thirty minute drive to get here each time, and the big, gentle hands which had cradled the shivers out of the cat the time before. Who walked the cat along with a dog – and it would be a big, utterly loyal mongrel of a dog, Anders just knew — so they could do their business together.
'Sure, if you want. Meanwhile, I'll have Lirene email you the address of someone involved with behavioural rehabilitation, her name's Merrill. Don't let the fact she's not registered make a difference, she knows her stuff. And her limits. Fenris is past the worst, so she might be able to help him get some sleep.'
Garrett collected his cat and turned his back, conversation closed.
Continue to Chapter 4 →
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