Hates Children and Animals
'I thought we might try a decent teriyaki for a change.' The boxes were printed with the logo of a Hightown address, the handles actual wicker, the chopsticks not the sort you had to snap apart before you could use them. 'I hope you're hungry. What am I saying, you're always hungry.'
Garrett's arm was in a cast but not a sling, to the elbow but not beyond. After a week of vacillating, Anders had rung him yesterday to let him know Fenris was okay to come home, and from the background sounds Garrett had been having a party in his house. Anders had also watched through the sagging blinds of his office, the sleek gunmetal of the car dropping him off, a lean, fit looking driver in a tailored suit (and black runners, which was just wrong) getting out to open Garrett's door for him. He was no one Anders knew.
Not that Anders knew anything about Garrett except what Garrett told him.
Garrett sat on the benchtop, Anders leaning against the wall, while Fenris steadily claimed each teriyaki box with his cheek, purring expectantly.
'How's the arm?' Anders took his box before Fenris could rub it, then opened it and handed it to Garrett regardless.
'I've had worse. Broke three ribs my first month on the mine.'
'So much for your vaunted occ health and safety. How did you manage that?'
'It's the lyrium,' Garrett said seriously. 'It attracts them.'
They'd spent ages trying to call each other's bluffs before, when Garrett had made fun of his total incapability at cards. Anders experienced a solid three heartbeats of uncertainty. If there was ever a man who could make me believe in dragons...
A grin. 'It was a runaway digger, if you simply have to hear the boring story. Brakes on those things are heavy duty, but they still wear. Anyway, it would have been fine, it was going slow enough the driver just jogged up to it and climbed in the cabin, but it picked up a steel column underneath, in exactly the wrong spot, and the steering column locked. None of us knew that, of course, So there's four of us in the cab trying to force the wheel to get the truck off the rank before it hit anything critical. It was all going ok until we just,' a hand gesture, 'caught the second pylon, left flank. Whole thing snapped. Threw me out of the cabin. Now, that hurt more than this.' A contemplative expression. 'That's every day out there, Anders. A series of mildly unfortunate events all occurring on top of each other.'
Anders didn't want to think about it. 'You seem cheerful enough. Made a new best friend, huh?'
'Because Leto dropped me off here? Uh. He's...ok, he's a surly bastard once you get him around a couple of drinks and the bodyguard face cracks. But that's no surprise, considering. Just your type, I would have thought. Repressed and angry.' He was grinning madly like Anders should have joined in. Fading and faltering when he didn't. Uncertainty looked wrong on Garrett, made him look young and vulnerable, what with with the bruises and the dark pinchpoint across the bridge of his nose.
'Yeah, well. Don't try to set us up or anything.'
An apologetic shrug. 'He put me down so quick I didn't feel it until we were half way to the hospital. He was impressive.' Trying to eat with his broken arm, Garrett spilled noodles into his lap, Fenris leaping to the feast.
'There's something fucking wrong with this place. What, he's another thug killing his way through the cages? And you think this is impressive? Or are you aiming to rescue him, too? Why do you risk everything because of someone else's choices?'
Garrett stared. 'What's wrong with you? You're acting like it was your mother's arm that he broke.' A sneer. 'Wait, I forgot. You couldn't give a shit about anyone but yourself.'
Anders set aside the box, suddenly tasteless. Too expensive, that's what it was. No gritty substance.
'Well, I see he hit you hard enough to give you a personality transplant.'
Garrett stood abruptly. 'Thanks for lunch, and everything.' A tight, paced circle, flicking noodles off his lap while Fenris backed away, wary. 'Fucking Maker, Anders! So I got bored with feeling like the world was out to get me, all right? All that self pity...and this bastard was just so deliberately out to get me in such a perfectly uncomplicated way, it put things in perspective! It was a good fight, and I lost, no permanent damage...and it was this perfect difference between circumstantial hurt and actually being targeted for something I'd done wrong. It wasn't some abstract universe out to get me, it was one man. I felt like I had control again, for one fucking moment! Even losing—' A brisk headshake, the near-shout lowering. 'Leto's had lyrium too. Injects. Even my brother never injected. He competes, and Danarius never told him what lyrium does—used the cat as an example of how much lyrium improves performance, and because it's not even acknowledged as a drug they won't test for it in the cage fights. It took a long time before Leto was even listening to me when I told him what it does—'
'Right, so it is another rescue mission. Glad to know. But I don't think he'll fit too well in one of my dog cages when he goes through his withdrawal.'
A disgusted look, which shrivelled Anders' stomach. 'Why did I think you would care? I'll save it for Aveline.'
'Now you're doing a cop's job? City guard in your sights, because it's not enough that you save cats
and pretty fuckboys from their evil owners.'
A pause. Then Garrett suddenly swung with his good arm, the abandoned box scattering its contents across the benchtop. 'What happened to you? Someone raid your apartment this morning? Or are you pissed off about having to keep Fenris for a week? I bet he was noisy. Interrupted your beauty sleep and all.' He scrabbled at his jeans–and since when did Garrett wear jeans that tight? A thin, battered wallet. His cheeks flushed in ugly blotches. 'I'll pay Lirene on my way out.'
He stood there for a very awkward moment, then Anders realised Garrett couldn't pick up Fenris with the broken arm and hold on to the wallet at the same time. Otherwise a brilliant statement.
Anders could feel manic laughter building. This was so much better than awkward. Better than bursting into flames of lust.
'I'm sorry. I've been worried. Garrett. Fuck, I'm so sorry. I told you, I'm a dick. Don't go. Finish eating, at least. There's another box.'
Garrett sat down after a brief hesitation. 'It's not Kristoff, is it?'
'What? No, I was worried about you. I was so used to you coming around.' I was the only one you relaxed around. I was so sure of that. But you have so many friends. You make them so easily.
'I'm sorry you were worried.'
Now it was awkward.
A storm-blue glance, and Garrett rubbed his beard, rueful. 'I can't help but feel like I should have got in at least one blow, right? I mean, if he's a boxer, he shouldn't look or move so much like a sodding ballet dancer.'
The dark tone was reassuring. Anders settled himself again and reached for his box. Groped for a topic. What did they talk about before? It's only been two weeks. 'Funny you mentioned Kristoff. There's a new register online for the MIAs of Amaranthine. Kristoff discovered it on one of his better days.' Anders made a face, too aware of Garrett watching him warily from under the fringe. Is he going to be wondering forever when I'm going to snap like that again? 'We had a difficult conversation. He can't work out if he wants to register or not. The government declared an amnesty, no questions or charges, they're so desperate to rebuild a standing military again. If he registers, then we don't have to try to fake anything through Zev.'
'Why wouldn't he want to?'
'His wife. A dead husband is one thing, the grief is intense, then you move on. But Kristoff's...very aware he's not going to be that man for the rest of his life. He doesn't know if he wants to put that strain on Aura. Dead husband, grief, moving on, or forever living with a broken person.'
'Instead Kristoff puts that burden on you? Just because you were there, and you suffer a guilty conscience—'
'I wanted to help him. I still do want to help him. It's been three years already, why rush him into this decision? He's lucky if he can get two hours of thinking straight. When he's ready, I'm ready.'
A sullen nod. 'Have you thought about registering?'
It took Anders a moment to puzzle out that Garrett meant for himself. His heart skipped a beat. 'I'm better off as it is.'
'Fuck, Garrett! You and family. Everyone who cares about me knows where I am.'
'Who, Karl and Kristoff?' A challenge in that gaze.
Anders dodged. 'I'll get nothing but unwanted scrutiny.'
'I thought there was an amnesty.'
'Not for convictions from before the war.'
It slipped out, uneasily, but unstoppable. Anders would have expected questions, challenges. Would have felt Garrett had the right to it, too. I killed people. They hurt me and I killed them. It was an accident, I swear. But I ran, and then had to kill them for coming after me again. And I felt nothing except fear. Not even a thread of regret. Do you want to hate me now?
Steadily, 'It'll catch up with you one day, Anders. If you stay still long enough.'
'Me? Never. Give me a two day head start, and I'm gone.'
The mouth twitched to one side, not exactly a smile. 'I'd believe that.'
After eating, they both bent to clean up the scattered noodles, Garrett doing more harm than good. Towards the end of the lunch hour, Lirene came in and obtrusively made tea, casting pointed looks.
'I should go. Have to walk the dogs. Do you want me to call...Leto, or someone, to pick you up?'
A shrug, then a gleeful smile. 'He should be here in half an hour. I can walk the dogs with you, if you like?'
'With a broken arm?'
'Only need one hand to hold the leash.'
'Are you sure? Fenris probably wants to get home.'
'Traitor would likely run straight next door again. No, let's take these greyhounds for a walk. Dozer's twice the dog, these guys are featherweights next to him. I can handle it, trust me.'
They were finishing the second lap when Garrett said, 'So maybe you should come round for a meal or something.'
'What, to your place? Oh, I get it. Sick of the slums already. Do you cook?'
'Maker, no!' Almost a yelp. 'I was thinking we could go out.'
'I could probably do with something that has a side salad. Sometimes I think I live out of boxes.'
A fleeting grin. 'You do live out of boxes. You should have scurvy by now.'
'Funny story. I did have, once.'
They arrived to find Leto was early, leaning against the driver's side door of that sleek grey car. Arms crossed, legs shoulder-width apart, such a stereotype in the linen shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbow, his jacket over his arm. Anders coughed into his palm. 'I'll duck inside and get Fenris.'
The cat didn't appreciate the handling without having first initiated contact, so Anders actioned a small war with an onion bag while while Garrett hovered outside, and Lirene watched the scene with dubious interest.
Leto took the cat with a nod, eyes catching Anders' so briefly, ducking away. Definitely lithe and sort of balletic. And short. That, Anders hadn't been expecting. Or the way Fenris went immediately limp in the fighter's hands. Expectation, Anders imagined.
'The bad thing about that,' Anders tapped Garrett's cast while Leto settled the cat in the centre console. 'You won't be going on holiday any time soon.'
'Yes and no. Delayed for a couple of weeks, but that only means I miss the party and go straight to the boardroom.' Leto opened the rear door for Garrett so smoothly, expressionless, even as Garrett sighed. 'Look, I appreciate the...insistence, but you are still not officially chauffeuring me whatever your boss says. Haven't we had this conversation already?'
Anders would have sworn that was almost a smile on the impassive face. Leto opened the passenger side door instead, a wry tilt of chin, and left Garrett to get in on his own. A spry step as Leto moved around the car to the driver's side. Definitely bodyguard. Creepy.
Garrett held out his cast to Anders even as Leto reached over and buckled him in, practiced. Anders almost laughed again; Garrett strove staunchly to ignore the assistance. 'Do you want to write me a message?'
'You can't spring that on me! I can't put anything in writing without at least fifteen drafts first.'
'I'd hate to see the paperwork behind your prescriptions.'
'Fortunately I'm not a doctor.' Anders leaned over a little more, striving to catch Leto's eye with the profile consistently averted. 'Exactly how many drinks does he have to get into you before you open up and talk?'
'Seven,' without a missed beat. The voice was disconcerting, remembered from the weird late night phone call.
Garrett shuddered. 'You mean bottles, I take it?' In a false whisper, 'His constitution, Anders, you wouldn't believe it.'
'I can and I do.' Even at this distance, the veins on the forearms were oddly pronounced. Thick and ropy, which was to be expected, but hard looking, the wrong colour even through gold skin. 'How much have you had?'
A slight twitch of chin. 'Pardon?'
'It's all about being better, when it starts. I've seen it before. Think faster, move faster, do things you never thought you could do before. The rest of the world slows down. You dodge bullets. But it doesn't stay that way. You'll lose your mind. When you're fighting a war you can't win, maybe there's some logic or honour in embracing the lifestyle, like a suicide fight. Last desperate attempts, just trying to prove a point. Cause enough damage you might make a difference. But what are you doing it for, someone else's glory? Someone else's profit?' Even Garrett was looking at him now, the slight shake of his head, while Leto turned that flat, expressionless stare on him. Excellent idea, Anders. Let the illegal lyrium dealer's bodyguard know that you know. The man's probably a murderer. 'Look, it's none of my business—'
'It's none of your business.' Leto's voice was as smooth and dark as the car. But his tongue flicked at the corner of his mouth, a trace nervousness. Leto looked at Garrett and away. 'Are you ready to go?'
'Sure.' Garrett rolled his eyes at Anders through the open window, then wound up the tint with a charmingly crosseyed obnoxiousness.
Continue to Chapter 9 →
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