Hates Children and Animals
'I was thinking about going on holiday for a few months. I've an invite to some stupid party in Orlais. A good excuse to get out of Kirkwall for a while.'
Anders knew he looked surprised and tried to cover it, but he had already lowered his cards. Enough that Garrett took a glimpse at them and sighed heavily. Shit. He was in what Anders had learned was his ruthless mood, humour turned scathing, everything an insult. Even Anders' insistence on losing.
'What about the company?'
'What about it? You don't really think I handle the day to day, do you? What do I know about running a business, I was bloody infantry. I left school when I was eleven, we were on the move too much.'
'Really? I mean—' What were you supposed to say to that. I never would have known you were an illiterate dropout. How rude could you get? Well, now you showed them, Gare, well done.
'Just because you had the full benefit of a paid education halfway through a medical degree. Even if it was one you got unwillingly. Don't mind me, I eat my culture with a spoon.' Mild mocking at reading Anders so easily. Garrett raised his eyebrows. 'You look like I'd just said I was going to the moon. Don't you ever go on holiday?'
'I can't remember the last time.'
'What would happen to the clinic, if you did?' Garrett let his gaze drop, picking at his nails. Must have a bad hand. A really bad hand. He never had a tell Anders could usually pick, unless the nailpicking was faking it. Anders scowled at his diminished chips. Gambling with chocolate buttons was a bad idea.
'Urgent medical cases could be redirected to a legal clinic, I suppose, but the track owners wouldn't be happy with me.' Or Karl, if Anders let this link in the semi legal chain fall apart. 'This clinic operates on their sufferance. Honestly, the rehab jobs Merrill can deal with for a while. If Fenris has a relapse for some reason, she'll be here, if that's what you're worried about.'
'After what he did to her curtains? And the rest of her waiting room? Not a chance. She'd probably pin him down and piss on him in vengeance.'
The pizza had been from a Hightown address, still slightly warm after Garret's drive down, and overloaded with maple glazed chicken. Anders blamed the added sugar on his laugh. 'Sorry. Just picturing it. I thought you paid her out?'
'Money doesn't fix everything, Anders.'
Ridiculous, the way his name on this man's lips made him feel warm. It had been a long time since he'd had a best friend who wasn't Karl.
'Lirene's been telling me to get my life in order. Can't live from bag to bag forever, WSR training aside. Maybe a holiday would make sense. Not that I have any money for it.' Breathed. 'You going with anyone?'
'What? Even after—'
'Well, yeah. We are friends. We made up.'
'Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to tell you how to run your life. But if it were me that someone had shafted over like that, I wouldn't be going on a holiday with them.'
'That is because you,' a flash of storm blue eyes, 'are someone who holds grudges. For. Ever.'
'I do not!'
'And when was the last time you spoke to your family?'
'No, it's not.' Garrett shrugged. 'Forget it. I like fixing broken things. If you were to go on holiday, anyone special you'd want to take along?'
The friendly warmth of the almost argument curdled. Anders took a breath. Felt an old fear.
He hadn't quite pinned Garrett down. The man seemed to like his company. Had no idea of the odd, occasional bursts of desire he provoked, but Anders wasn't a teen, didn't have to act on everything. There were a lot of people in the world, each attractive in their own way. Everything so far had just suggested Garrett liked talking with someone from Ferelden, some vague sense of comradely duty, who didn't respect the artificial boundaries set up by his Hightown reputation. Maybe a bit of nostalgia for the Darktown setting reminding him of his family, but nothing more. And Anders could remember the biting, bitter scorn when Garrett had mocked his neighbour's attractive boyfriend.
But how closely could you get to know someone if always talking around the point?
'Yeah. You remember Karl? He did the anaesthetic for Fenris.'
'He sponsored your visa.'
'We're sort of—' Couldn't do it, in the end. 'Not ex.'
But Garrett just nodded. The relief was embarrassing. Shameful. 'Is it complicated?'
'It's exactly the opposite of complicated.'
'So is it serious?'
'Last time we...' Were they at this stage yet? Leap the bisexual barrier, start talking about wanking? Anders made an obscure motion of his hand, then stared at it and stopped, hoping Garrett hadn't seen. What was that even supposed to be? An elephant's dick? 'I wound up laughing myself sick. Felt like being fondled by, not even a brother. A kid sister or something. Look, I don't know. On again, off again. Off for a while now, maybe never on again. I'm not the serious type, you know? Am I babbling?'
'Monologuing, I thought. Riveting.'
'And you say you're uncultured.'
They grinned at each other. Happy, Anders absently ate his next bid, realising only when Garrett's grin turned vicious.
'I did pick Kirkwall to come because Karl was here. Easier setting up in a town when you've a contact you can trust. I've been relying on him a lot. This thing with Kristoff—Karl probably deserves a holiday as much as I do.'
A mocking lift of brows. 'You were wild. But everyone gets old. Settles down.'
'Don't know if I'm ready for settling down just yet. It's been, what is it now, just over three years? Apart from school, medical school, I haven't stayed anywhere longer than four years. If I make that here, I'll call it a record. I've lived in more apartments than years I've been alive.'
'Forty nine apartments? Wow!'
'Fuck you,' they were both laughing.
'So you and Kristoff...'
'Maker, no!' It was a yelp. 'No no no. He's like.'
But what was it like? A one man crusade. Feeling like he could stand up against against all the silence,the conspiracy of WSR, of the Specials, of a government that never told them the truth about the war, the severity, the surrender. A government and a religion which permitted and endorsed what his family made of him. When Kristoff had been coherent, there had been a link, something almost fraternal, an ideology which Anders could almost embrace, a certain peace Kristoff carried with his belief in the Maker, in Andraste, an interpretation of the Chant of Light which didn't seem so cruel. If Anders' hadn't been so suspicious of everything ideological.
'It's different with Kristoff, like a responsibility. He was a comrade, and it was my inexperience which destroyed him. I know you don't believe it, but I am responsible. I tried to bring him in under a lie.' Because Anders hadn't wanted to reveal his own name, which was a different story. 'I don't know if there's even a legitimate way to get him into government care any more.' Almost bitterly, 'In that first year in Kirkwall, you'd remember. Refugees everywhere. There was nothing for us. Everyone was in denial that anything had even happened, at Kinloch, or at Amaranthine. The commanders disappeared, the splinter groups assumed control...getting out of Amaranthine was the only clear path to take. Only to find the rest of the world was in denial Ferelden even existed. Now, of course, it's all public apologies and acknowledgements, but then...'
'Who's taking care of Kristoff while you're on your imaginary holiday?' Garrett gestured with his juice bottle at the tenements across the ruined earth.
He might as well. 'Promise you won't tell.'
Garrett looked at him over the lip of the bottle. 'Pinky swear.'
'Are you serious?'
The offered little finger didn't waver.
Anders hooked his through it, wondering again at the roughness. Maybe a weightlifter? He hadn't seen Garrett without a bulky jacket yet. Maybe, from the shoulders. 'You're insane. I should be reporting you to some authority.'
'Already tried. They make more money off my income tax than by putting me away.' Garrett released him and kissed the little finger, offering a salutation to Andraste. 'Pinky sworn to silence, may demons take my tongue if I tell.'
'All right. I have a friend—'
'He— Garrett, please. He's really a friend of a friend, someone I knew in Amaranthine. A forger. You sure I can trust you with this?' He must be high on the ginger beers Garrett brought along with the juice. He squinted at the label. Maybe they were alcoholic.
'Anders,' Garrett sighed heavily, 'we just pinky swore. Please don't question my trust.'
'This friend helped me with false passports for Kristoff and I. More than once. I'm getting him to try help make Kristoff legitimately alive again, so we can put him into the care centre over,' a general handwave. Anders had tried to drive past the place with Karl on a clinic lowday, and couldn't feel anything but guilt looking at the solid front wall. 'I need to do this,' Anders told Garrett, in Karl's words. 'Kristoff deserves proper care. Not selfish old me. He's...getting a little violent these days, too. Frustrated at how diminished he is. He used to be a real warrior type in the WSR, you know? Defending whole villages single handed, independent missions, everything. A real ranger. Now he can't even—' A pause for another handful of chocolate, sugar burning his throat. 'Reckons he can't stand me any more, anyway. And maybe you're right. It's wearing me down, taking responsibility for...everything. It wasn't me alone, you know? It was a whole laboratory, a whole government, a whole fucking cover-up. But maybe I'm just weak.'
'I don't think you're selfish.' Garrett stared at his hands. The flicker of a smile. 'Well. Not especially selfish. I know what it feels like, thinking you need to take responsibility for all of it. Sometimes it just doesn't work that way. Doing it only makes you feel better instead of actually addressing the problem.' Juice finished, Garrett swigged the beer.
'But that's all best case. If Zev's little fraud falls through, I'll be stuck here with Kristoff, and holidays go hang.'
'How much do you trust your forger?'
'I don't think Zev's into pinky swears, if that's what you mean.'
'Are you willing to accept my help? Money can open some of these doors.'
'I will not take your money, Garrett.' Too harsh. His attempt at moderation stuttered. 'Except for services rendered. I mean. Fenris, yeah. And your dog, if he ever needs anything.'
'I didn't meant to offend. It's more, I know some people. The detective, for example, Aveline. And believe it or not, I know the city's Viscount. Marlie has the worst parties, but I think he's a good sort. We might get Kristoff into the right hands without needing to bring you or your fraudster into it all. There must have been a lot of MIA from Amaranthine.'
'Thanks, but I'd like to try this my way first.'
'All right. Not a problem.' Garrett seemed cross.
'I don't want to seem ungrateful, I'm just used to—'
Being alone. Anders fidgeted with a limp slice of pickle on the pizza box, lifting cardboard with it.
'Ok. You let me know if you want the help.'
'I appreciate it. Really. And you enjoy yourself. Try not to incite any scandals while you're gone.'
The raised voices carried from reception all the way out the back, as Anders rushed to unlock the rear door, glancing at the clock in bemusement on his way through. None of the usual ornery gangsters were up this early, kennel owners raging about theft or pit lords and their right to destroy property. Anders was frowning fiercely when he pushed into the foyer, heart hammering and a broomstick minus broomhead held close across his chest, prepared to handle any number of irate biker types hunting the drugs he rarely kept at the clinic.
What he found was a woman in short shorts, high boots and a white linen dress short enough to need the shorts, holding a significantly sized clutchbag.
Lirene huffed. 'She says she'll only speak to you.'
The name swam at Anders out of a newspaper's typeset. 'Isabela?'
The smile dazzled against dark skin. 'I knew you'd recognise me. Our mutual friend is in dire need of your healing hands.' Isabela presented her handbag, which heaved.
'Let's go into two.' The broomstick fell over when he tried to prop it against the reception desk, Lirene sighing at him.
Isabela's bag contained a lot of shed fur and blood. Fenris had a serious tear in one ear, the claws on his front paws shredded to the quick. Running, climbing, digging? The irregularity in his heartbeat was painfully pronounced, and the usual techniques weren't calming him. Anders paused to mop up his scratches with antiseptic, Fenris immediately fleeing into the opposite corner of the exam room, trembling.
'Where's Garrett? He's a knack for handling the cat in moods like this.'
Isabela, braver than Anders would have thought, crouched and reached out to the cat. Fenris looked at the hand suspiciously and ghosted to the other side of the room. All those bangles chiming, Anders felt the same. 'In hospital.'
'Is he okay?' It was an automatic response.
'I wouldn't know. I left while they were checking him in.'
'Fenris tried to go home. Goes missing for three days, and on the third the old man comes back from wherever he's been, and Hawke starts to stress. He does his usual, jumps the back fence to search for the cat, but unfortunately for him, the old man's bodyguard was in the sauna next to the pool. Sees him strolling across the yard hissing for Fenris and takes critical exception to the trespass. Put Hawke in hospital.' A quick grin over her shoulder. 'Literally.'
'That's assault. Is Garrett pressing charges?'
'For what? He jumped someone's fence and stole his cat. Repeatedly. That's trepassing, and I should know.'
'All your years as an international cat smuggler, I suspect. Nice sideline from commodities crime.'
'Precious thinks he has claws!' Isabela looked familiar grinning a little dangerously like that. Too many insouciant pictures of her in the papers. 'Our Danarius was a trainer some decades ago. He'd made his fortune duelling in Minrathous, sat back on his laurels, opened a few gyms, sponsored a few fighters, and in his mature years decides he's going in for the specialist scene and takes up training again. Outliers, the unlikely, the weighted matches. I would guess our Leto's his latest imported bantam. Have you ever watched a featherweight pull apart a guy Hawke's size?'
'I don't like blood sports.'
'It was an education. The old man certainly looked well informed before he deigned to call a stop.'
The tone added what innuendo couldn't, which was more than Anders expected. 'That's...disgusting.'
Tattooed lids widened in mock innocence. 'What is? Fighting?' A handwave, surprisingly short nails. 'Old greyface retires to relieve himself of his surplus load of information, but not before he orders Leto to stop, to “apologise profusely to the good man, pet”,' her lazy affectation was all Tevinter, 'then Leto drives us to the hospital for afters. He's struggling to fill out Hawke's hospital form and looking like he'd prefer to beat a brick to death with his head, and Hawke sends me back for this little one and gives me your address, and makes me swear on my own grave I'm not leaving until Fenris is in your hands.'
'Adding breaking and entering to trespass and assault.'
'Why live unless it's dangerously?' Faint pity when she glanced at Fenris. 'He opened the cage, clever thing, but the dungeon's deadbolt defeated him. It was horrendous down there, a real test lab. I'm tempted to go back with a few canisters of explosives.'
'And Lirene accuses me of melodrama.' Anders looked at Fenris and knew. What made him marvel was the instinct that kept the cat fighting to get away from the trainer again, despite the lyrium lure.
Then again, he doubted Danarius would let a prize fighting cat sleep in his bed and shred his pillows for entertainment. Treat them cruel, keep them hungry. Anders knew how fighting kennels worked. Maybe Fenris' longing wasn't so strange.
The thought initiated a powerful, unbelievable loneliness.
Distantly, he thanked Isabela for bringing Fenris in and asked her to leave. For simplicity's sake. The near isolation almost worked, Anders grovelling on his belly to get close enough to grab Fenris again and clean and patch his wounds, wishing for Garrett's big hands to hold the cat immobile. He took a blood sample with only one vengeful bite in return, and put Fenris into his usual dogbox. The cat went to the stale blankets almost happily. If he was coming off the lyrium again, Anders imagined the familiarity would be a boon.
Having reached a truce with Lirene, Isabela was draped over the counter, both she and Lirene eyeing him curiously.
'I never knew you were in Denerim,' Lirene accused him. 'I'm from Denerim. Why did you never tell me?'
'What?' Anders fumbled with the antiseptic, wishing one of them would offer to help. 'Why, so we could reminisce over starch soup and gassy ale? You know how much I love sentiment. I was only there for three weeks.' Before the guard hauled him away again, back to the bells and the schedules, the whistles and barred doors. Detention centres then boarding schools then jails and then Amaranthine's wretched, gutted barracks.
For some reason it all felt close again, too close, always being watched. Better than being alone. No, it wasn't. They tried to convince you of that, but it wasn't. A deep breath, the tail end of which shuddered unexpectedly.
'Three exceptionally well lived weeks.' Isabela gave him that dangerous grin again.
Aghast, Anders fumbled the antiseptic bottle. 'Maker, it's you.'
'There we go! I told you he'd recognise me properly, sooner or later.'
'A brothel, Anders,' Lirene's disapproval dripped. 'A Denerim brothel!'
'Healthcare is healthcare, even illegitimately dispensed to prostitutes. Need is need. And I need a bloody coffee.'
'Thanks,' Isabela said. 'Mine's black, two sugars. Light on the blood.'
Whether it was the adrenaline from psyching himself up to fight, extended by the shock of Isabela's revelation and Fenris' pitiable state, the emotion ambushed him halfway through his first cup. Tangled emotion, so much he didn't know if he was angry or concerned, Anders felt a moment of alarm at the intensity, then positively exploded when it hit him while Isabela was still cooing over the puppies, ankle deep in their newspaper cage.
'What was he thinking! He could have been killed!'
He felt a vein throb in the centre of his forehead. Strove for control. No, no control. I want to hit something!
Isabela arched an eyebrow. 'That's going a bit far, don't you think? Even in Kirkwall.'
But she wouldn't know about the lyrium. Only an arrogant idiot would keep lyrium where a casual thief could find it, even in a basement laboratory dungeon. Because if Danarius so much as suspected Garrett knew about the drug, who knew how far he'd go to keep it quiet. But he wouldn't know, Anders thought desperately. Because he'd been away, and might never have known his fighting cat was missing and in an illegal vet's care all this time.
Which brought his thoughts back to this Leto.
Imported bantam, Isabela called him. Another refugee using Kirkwall's fighting rings to fight out of poverty. Poor kid must have been shitting bricks at losing his boss's cat. Probably thanked every god who existed when Fenris came back on his own, locking him back into the cell and pretending he'd never gone—
Anders shook his head furiously, dizzy. He refused to feel sympathy for someone who just put his— Garrett in hospital.
Isabela coughed delicately. 'You often have conversations with yourself?'
'What's it to you?'
She put down a squirming puppy. 'Oh, nothing. Just be careful if it escalates to arguing.'
Anders rubbed his eyes until they hurt. He could barely remember Isabela from Denerim. Nostalgia didn't help when you moved so often. He barely remembered Denerim, just another city razed in the war. Isabela had a boat, had enjoyed the dockside bar below where he took a short stay apartment for a pittance, mostly because the other rooms were let by the hour
Isabela had broken in to a stranger's house for a cat, because Garrett asked her.
Garrett wanted to take her on a holiday. Forgave her for nearly ruining what he was trying to build. Slept with her. Must be sleeping with her.
And Isabela had just stood back and watched him fight a losing battle.
Anders would have leaped in to help.
Then he could see it stark as snow, Garrett facing down a skilled opponent, oozing that air of scorn and irritation which had become as familiar as the sound of his bike. And losing. In all their movie watching, Karl had managed to sneak in a few of Kirkwall's blood and bluster types, made for gangster honour and money laundering. Leto would have forced Garrett to dig his own grave, a faceless Danarius asking him curiously what he wanted with Fenris, right before placing the mouth of a gun against the pulse flicking at that pale brow.
Garrett with blood from the fight smeared across his face, clotting into the beard. Maybe I really like cats. Cats and children. I'm a likeable man.
Maker! Garrett. Anders' heart raced again, as if he'd heard the gun in his ear again. This, for a fight already hours over. He was being ridiculous. The knowledge did nothing to calm him. People often told him he was a fool.
Breath coming short and sharp. Don't think about Amaranthine. Maker, he'd got through it by mocking everything, until Surana had been forced to separate him from the others to spare his own skin. Friendly fire, Anders. They can't trust you, not after what they saw you do to Rylock. He was not made for war.
—and he was working himself into a state. Hadn't done this in years. Don't think about it. Distance. Garrett was fine. Garrett wasn't another Kristoff, dying in his arms again and again. Garrett was well enough to talk to Isabela, who looked entirely unconcerned for her boyfriend's life. Anders shouldn't be feeling guilty about this at all. Garrett was not dying.
The dread tightening around his chest called it a lie. He's dying. He's dying, and you'll never see him again.
'Uh oh. It looks like it's escalating. You want to sit down?' Isabela went for a chair.
His voice came strangled. 'A bloody cat! I would have told him to just let the cat go! It's not worth—'
The sudden taste of sick in his throat. Anders felt appalled at himself, looking at the half of the coffee he hadn't drunk.
'I need to call him. He's all right, isn't he?'
Isabela set the chair behind him and pushed him down gently. 'He'd like to hear from you, but not just now. Hospitals take forever. He kept fainting every time he moved his arm.'
She was leaning over him. Anders looked up and unavoidably into her cleavage. The dread tightened again, a confused pulse. Garrett was straight. Look at Isabela. Garrett was straighter than a ruler. So he'd moved past the idea of Anders having a boyfriend without even a hitch of his shoulders, because it didn't matter. They were friends. Garrett was a patronising rich bastard slumming his late nights in a dirty clinic just for laughs. Probably joked about it amongst the socialite set, some of my best friends live in Darktown! There had been no signs of taking it further than that, ever, no signs from Garrett, not even if Anders had been purposefully hunting for them. What was this protectiveness, this fear?
All tangled with some obscure lust.
Not a warm flicker of appreciation at the physical, which could be acknowledged for what it was, humanity, and set aside. This was in his pulse, bashing at the insides of his skull. He would crack into pieces. It would show through his skin. It had to show. His blood was boiling. If he touched Garrett, they'd both go up in smoke. Conflagration. Burned up by his lusting.
Oh, no. Oh, please Maker, no. Not him! Not Garrett!
Now Lirene was standing next to Isabela, concerned. Why were they showing him their cleavage? Didn't they know what they were doing? Mocking him, with something he would never want again!
'Anders. What's wrong?'
Thin, reedy. 'A man just got put into hospital by a gangster's boyfriend to spare the life of a feral cat.'
A muffled laugh from Isabela. 'Varric needs your help with his summaries.'
Anders appealed to Lirene instead, the embodiment of stability in a world stretched at the edges. 'Do you think I should call him?
'Garrett Hawke? About his cat?'
But Lirene had always gone home by the time Garrett came with his evening bounty. She didn't know. If he could lie to her, convince her, then he could lie to Garrett, and everything would be all right.
'He's a friend,' Anders said. Cringed at his own desperation.
'Hawke had an accident,' Isabela said. 'He's in hospital.'
Lirene's expression shifted, a sudden understanding, sympathy. She was all efficiency then. The coffee went down the small sink in the corner. She made him breathe with her, as stupid as he felt, spitting curses about not being pregnant just to see the anger flicker in her eyes. Anything except pity. Hate me. Hate was easier, and could be fought against. But Lirene was persistent, and he took long and deep breaths until the anxiety suddenly eased.
When his hands stopped shaking Lirene ushered Isabela into the reception, giving him the time and space for his mind to empty and his heart to slow. Isabela had been rubbing his back too, warm and casual for a near-stranger. A comfort which he hadn't even noticed until she stopped.
Their voices through the wall. 'He was in Amaranthine. WSR.'
Anders sneered at his knees; as if that explained every overreaction. He had hoped Lirene, at least, would have just named him an idiot.
'Really?' Isabela sounded surprised. 'In Denerim, he never seemed— Was he at the keep or the Amaranthine city?'
'But it fell, I heard. A massacre.' A pause. 'Oh, I see.'
No, you fucking don't.
Anders covered his mouth and breathed through his nose, hard, until the sound of his breath obscured everything.
While Lirene and Isabela talked, Anders made his way to the phone in his office. The hospital's receptionist took his name and message but wouldn't put him through.
'Mr Hawke is in with the doctor for his exam.'
'Is he staying overnight?' Visiting would be an awful idea. Confronted with the dry, distracted voice of the receptionist, hospital noises filtering through, the momentary heat and insanity was distant enough his lust seemed as ridiculous as his belief that Garrett was dead.
'No idea yet. They're doing an x ray.'
A flash of light behind his eyes. Nothing to be worried about. Anders went and packed Fenris' blood to send off to Karl's fully equipped lab, checked Fenris' water and general unhappiness, then decided he really needed breakfast.
Continue to Chapter 8 →
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