Hates Children and Animals
The elderly keyboard rattled and the keys were slightly sticky, but Anders persisted. Scripting his conversations was an old habit. One he should stick to, or he wound up calling people at eight thirty at night without knowing why.
We have to talk. I don't want to alarm you. This is very important to the continued operation of the clinic.
He bit his thumbnail. Lirene would raise an eyebrow and sigh. He'd overheard her bitching to a friend over the phone already.
It's like he thrives on the melodrama. He'd felt almost obligated to leap out and correct her with the frequent positive reports of his calming demeanour.
With animals, she'd say scathingly.
Lirene. It's about my lunches. I work for a pittance. Sometimes I think I pay you more than I earn a week. But I'm the specialist here – all right, ignoring his actual illegitimacy not a good start – I'm the only person here who knows how to stitch up a ripped gut or bite wound, or how to deal with a shattered tailbone. This means I work a ridiculous amount of overtime just to keep us afloat, and almost every day I work through lunch. So I'd really, really, really appreciate it immensely if you could add collecting my lunch to your administrative duties. I'll even give you the money for it. It's not derogatory or demeaning to your position to buy my lunches for me.
'Maybe if I was your mother,' Lirene said. 'Or your girlfriend.'
Anders leaped back from the screen and nearly headbutted Lirene in the nose. 'Oh hi.'
'Smooth.' She sighed. 'Look, Anders. Really. You like to imagine you're irreplaceable. But before you took up residence in the clinic, there were others. If you walked out tomorrow, there would be others. You need to get your life sorted first. If you can't even organise yourself enough to bring in lunch—'
'I am organised.'
'No, you organise the clinic shelves. One week in alphabetical order of supply, the next week in order of use. Organising is not being organised. Don't think I haven't noticed it's Karl who brings your groceries around every Friday after work. The man has a life of his own without needing to take care of yours as well.'
'I have Kristoff—' Last night had been a bad one. Anders could feel the waxy skin under his palms again, Kristoff ceding his arms with a shaking relief, needle sliding in too easily. They had been able to talk properly for a few hours before Kristoff passed out, bittersweet as the conversation was considering what had fuelled it. The substitutes were never enough.
An ineffable pity in Lirene's eyes. 'Anders, please. The man's a veteran. You need to get him out of your apartment and into a rehabilitation program. There's a beautiful home not even an hour's drive from here, right on a lake. My own brother's in there, and—' A tremor in her voice. 'Well, he's not exactly making progress, but he is getting fantastic care, and if there's one thing which makes me happy about being in this city instead of Ferelden, it's the free healthcare. It means you can be Kristoff's friend again, instead of needing to be his carer. I can give you their number.'
'Thanks for your concern, Lirene. I'd much prefer it if you'd just buy my lunch for me. Quick one-two out back for the privilege, is that it?'
Garrett called shortly after the conflagration died down, then came by as promised that evening, by which time the shiner had settled in for the long haul. Garrett quirked an eyebrow on sight. 'Is that why you didn't feel like heading out to the sports bar?'
Anders kept his attention on the floor, mop trailing dog hairs through the antiseptic. If he kept an even enough motion, he could flick the lot off once he got to the door. 'Wouldn't want anyone taking me for your bit of rough with this bloomer.'
'Yeah. Anything we should be worried about?' Casual menace, as Garrett leaned against the counter.
Anders almost tipped the bucket. We? 'Not likely. I was a dick. Deserved it.'
'Such a deservingly dickish nature you have, true.' Almost suggestive. Bastard. 'I'll walk down and get us a litre of rum to have here. I do so love what you've done with neon and antiseptic, real dungeon chic.'
'No, I—' When he looked up, Garrett's face was so open. Hopeful. Anders caved. 'Only if you want something. I prefer not to drink too much these days. Maybe another night.'
Momentarily pensive. 'Ah. Responsibilities. To be honest, I've gone off it a bit too. Beer and coffee man.'
'Getting old. Maybe you should try cider.'
'Speak for yourself! That blonde isn't hiding the whites, you know.'
'Meanwhile, I haven't seen a single flattering profile shot of you since they dug up your high school photo for the latest character bashing spreads of which the weeklies are so fond. Gormless, Garrett. Really gormless.'
'Oh, Maker. They didn't, did they?' Garrett followed him outside when he went to empty the bucket down the drain.
'I bet all the boys loved that moustache. Very...suave.'
Maybe the lisp was pushing it too far. But Garrett just grinned back. 'A poor life decision which my sister never let me forget. Hey, how about tonight we get into the hard stuff instead of the rum. You want a black coffee, white...?'
Garrett already knew the way to the kitchen, beelining for the mugs Anders had brought over yesterday from his apartment, in the top cupboard where Lirene couldn't reach. Raiding the fridge, Anders discovered she had already eaten the last of the chocolate biscuits in vile retribution. A twinge of guilt. Or maybe in hurt. Why did I say that to her? I should never speak again. The milk was good, at least: Anders had long since learned keeping single serves of long life was the better option.
They made their respective cups side by side. Anders raised his eyebrows at the heaped spoons of coffee Garrett took this time, with just a conservative dollop of milk, barely enough to change the colour.
'Up late tonight?'
An unhappy face. 'I'm flying out again tomorrow morning. I slept this afternoon, just after I called you. It's easier just staying awake through the night, I need to get a cab at about two thirty in the morning just to make sure I get there for the flight. Five am. The bloody taxis in this city are even worse than the trains.'
'The shift work must suck. Hey, maybe that's to blame for the accident rate. Shitty taxis and bad public transport.'
'Might work as a theory, if the lads didn't have their own accommodation out at the Pit.' Pensive again. 'You were army, you know what it's like. You get so used to walking through a dream you can't sleep through a night uninterrupted anyway.'
They sipped their coffees and stood across from each other, awkwardly.
'Let's go sit out the back. It smells better for starters.'
'Lovely outlook,' Garrett noted. 'Trains and tenements.'
'I'll join you in mutual admiration in a minute. Just let me get the lights.'
The sun was setting, early moths clustering around the bulb jutting from the wall. Garrett skipped bits of rubble across the broken tarmac, his best shots reaching the broken cyclone fence along the tracks. The lights in the tenements across the way flicked off and on to no notable pattern. Anders checked on the two remaining dogs before locking the front door, then sat down next to Garrett. Not too close. Concrete cold through his trousers. Probably less cold through Garrett's jeans, he imagined. Depending on what underwear he had on. Flannel, to match the shirts.
Anders picked out his apartment and kept an eye out for Kristoff's wandering silhouette. The lights never went off.
Garrett picked at the frayed knee of his jeans. 'I grew up in a place like that.' He nodded across the tracks. 'Eleven storeys. We grew tomatoes on the roof. When we first got to Kirkwall, it was like nothing changed. Make a couple of investments and bang. Rags to riches again. Mum was so happy. Then she had the house-help spray the tomatoes I was trying to grow down by the back fence. I think she thought they were pot. Do something once at fifteen, you never bloody live it down.'
Anders choked into his coffee. 'Must have been a big change, going from that to Hightown.'
'But you said it, didn't you? I can't complain. Not desperately struggling to survive leaves me plenty of time to think about everything going wrong. About losing it all.'
'I can't imagine—'
'Who ever does,' Garrett said, brisk. It was a shut down.
'No, I mean. You know I never got on with my family. I wrote for a while but never had anything back. Haven't wanted to see them for years. You had—' Something I envy. Garrett talked about them. Kept them alive. It made him feel lonely. 'It seems like you were all close.'
Garrett frowned at his coffee. When it came, it was an outburst.
'I never understood why my mother gave up all the wealth here in the first place. For my father. And a Fereldan tenement with corn and tomatoes on the bloody roof and mould on the ceiling underneath from the bad waterproofing. It was hard not to think she was happy when dad died. She could come back to all this—I loved my mother, mind. But when dad died, she started talking about Kirkwall as if it was the only answer. The war was just the last straw.'
'I bet she made all your lunches.'
Quizzical. 'Huh? Well. Until I left for army, yeah. That's what mothers do.'
Silence, and slurping of coffee.
'Well, now you've got Fenris.'
Garrett laughed mostly silently, shoulders heaving. 'That fucking cat! I swear he tried to kill me last night. If he wanted my pillow so bad, he could just bloody have it. Then he decides to shred the thing into a snowstorm. All silently, of course. I thought he'd killed my bathroom when I walked into it.'
'Bet it was satin and goosedown,' not quite without envy. Lucky Fenris.
'Red satin,' Garrett said, stroking his beard, delightfully sinister. 'And memory foam.'
'Ah.' What in the void is— 'Hangs on to all the nightmares, I suppose.'
Anders decided he liked it when Garrett laughed. Took years off the beard.
They talked some more about Merrill and the dogs, Anders' casual 'Think you'll see her again?' left unanswered. Then about Lirene and mothers, with Garrett acting suitably aghast at discovering the reason behind the bruise. 'Maker's bride, you didn't really say that, did you?' Eventually, Anders caught sight of Kristoff wavering past their flat's window to the bathroom, hunched and uneven, and said he had to leave.
It was ten pm. Garrett stood without objection, helped him wash up the mugs with a fresh sponge, and said goodbye.
The next day started with his apology to Lirene, hastened along by the delivery of a heartbreaking crateful of wriggling, mangy puppies too frightened to wag their tails. It was midafternoon before Anders grabbed a moment to breathe. Standing on the back porch again, looking at where they had sat, he felt a strange, nameless strange guilt surge at the thought of Garrett roaming around his own empty mansion from ten until two thirty in the morning, bored and sleepless, until a taxi arrived with a silent driver to dump him at the airport.
Don't be daft, Anders told himself. Garrett had things to do. Like running his business. Share trading online. Writing emails to friends left back in Ferelden. Shagging blonde model types. Nothing to feel guilty about at all.
Two weeks later, three daylit phone calls, a couple of single sentence emails. Garrett brought kebabs, four longnecks of sweet, clear cider, and surprisingly a mountain of chocolate.
'I thought you looked like a falafel kind of guy.' Garrett held out the wrap like offering a bunch of flowers. Hefty, heavy on substance and light on lettuce. No onions, bless him.
'Huh? Oh, what. I eat anything. Falafel is good.' Around a mouthful, sitting in the same spot on the step outside. 'Falafel is great!'
Garrett looked pleased. 'I got falafel too. Can't trust the meat in this city, even in Hightown. I swear they don't even cook that Orlesian stuff.'
But Garrett was tired, yawning more than speaking, nodding along as Anders rambled. And he was hungry, finishing his kebab before Anders got halfway through his and starting in on the blocks of chocolate as if each one was a single serve bar. The gluttony was ridiculously arousing, at least until Garrett got drunk, dozing against the wall, chocolate smeared on his lower lip.
Trailing off, Anders studied him. Hollow cheeks, bags under the eyes. He felt acutely conscious of the haggardness after spending a fortnight coaxing syringefuls of milk into puppy bellies. He resisted the urge to rub Garrett's stomach, the rough hands folded loosely at the belt buckle, a tiny triangle of hairy white skin exposed where the shirt parted.
'There was this photo last week, in the Times.'
Frowning, if somewhat resigned, Garrett opened his eyes. He leaned over and smacked Anders on the forehead with a sticky hand.
The touch had no precedent, not even a shoulder to shoulder or the usual blokey nudge. Anders reeled.
'Isabela didn't look just anything.'
'She sometimes works for me. External consultant.'
'That's going to be her burden to bear, if they prove she was. Religious ideology aside, I've never had any problems marketwise with the Arishok. The Qunari are ruthless in business, but all above board to date. I can't,' a deep breath, then Garrett inhaled the rest of his cider longneck. 'The company won't bear Isabela's indiscretions.'
Garrett said, 'Used to be. Sometimes. Like I said, ex. Maybe ex everything. Do you think I'm in a position to feel hurt? Business is business. Like she said, nothing personal, Hawke.'
Anders took slightly too big a mouthful of falafel.
Garrett made a disgusted sound. 'Can we talk about something else? I've been talking to my lawyers about Bela for two weeks. I'm just so sick of people...'
A hasty swallow. 'What, in general?'
'Sick of people fucking me around. You're not planning on fucking me around, are you? Bearing mysterious exorbitant bills, arriving in the dead of night, please see attachment for details of emotional blackmail?'
'Uh, I don't think so. No fucking. Around, I mean. No fucking, I have no desire to blackmail you emotionally or otherwise at this point in time. You brought the food and drink, after all.'
'So I did. And a damned fine mouthful it is.'
'Right. Yes. Topic change. Did you really buy every copy of your biography off that guy?'
Garrett's frown shifted into something less dangerous, amused. 'Varric? Yeah.'
'On first name terms, I see?'
'Well, I did make our Master Tethras rich. And famous. Well, more famous, really. We get together every couple of months and I give him a pile of bullshit about the socialites for his blog. I think he's a fanboy.'
'Of what? Your particular literary arc?'
'My what? It's the beard. He couldn't grow one if he tried.'
'I'm almost drunk enough that makes perfect sense.'
'You could grow a beard,' Garrett said wistfully. 'I can tell by the stubble.'
'It's not pretty. People start giving me money and pity every time I take a seat at a bus stop. You know, Garrett, I looked. I googled, I called libraries, I called the publisher. Couldn't find a single copy of it anywhere.'
'Should have tried ebay.' Garrett sighed lustily. 'I love ebay.'
'I hate ebay. All that time for what, junk? How many pairs of trousers that don't fit do you need?'
'That's your problem there, buying clothing. What you want to look for is tools and equipment. Especially if it's broken. Get it home for a pittance, learn the skills necessary to fix it up, sell it off at weekend markets for double the expenditure, and with a markup for your labour cost.'
Anders thought about the calloused palms. The vague hint of grease always lining the nails, the leather jacket, the battered bike. The paintball gun in a garage he'd probably never see, but which he'd bet Garrett spent more time in than the satin-lined sheets of his bed.
'You do realise you're rich, Gare? Rich enough to have called a publishing company and pre-ordered two runs worth of every copy of a single book pre-release?'
'Now I'm rich.' Garrett shrugged. 'Before Kirkwall, before the army, that's what we used to do. Scavenge, repair, resell. My brother and me and Bethy. She was great with the fine work. Computers and lamps and such. Dad taught her.'
'Maker, it's just so—arrogant, though. Don't you think? I mean buying off those books, not you and your brother—'
'Ah, you never met Carver! He was pretty arrogant. I, on the other hand, am a paragon of humility. Beth always told me so. Right before patting me on head. D'you think she was being patronising?'
'What was so bad about the biography?'
'It wasn't bad,' Garrett said, suddenly curt. 'Not at all.'
Anders could see how that might be a problem for someone so intent on avoiding sympathy. He reached for a cider which proved already drunk.
They finished in a not-unpleasant silence, by which time the puppies were clamouring for their next feed and Garrett joined in, a lap full of greyhounds intent on chasing the last lick of kebab juice from between his fingers.
Continue to Chapter 7 →
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