Hates Children and Animals
It was no better the next week. Two weeks. Four weeks. Anders dodged Garrett's calls, begged Lirene to cover for him, and didn't open his emails. Not that Garrett was overly persistent. Two emails, three calls, one unannounced visit.
Anders was not anticipating the ambush from Karl.
'You want to tell me what's going on? I must have missed your last seventeen emails.'
At least he brought coffee. Anders sipped the offering warily. 'I paid the rent.'
'You know what I mean. I've an Antivan import sitting on my shelf for a month that could get me in trouble if the guard knew. Has that chap you like in it, with the eyebrows.' A steady sigh, mocking, as Karl's infinite patience never wore thin. 'Anders, I'd been looking forward to you having more free time with Kristoff in a better place. Not less.'
'You make it sound like he's died.'
'Nothing of the sort.'
'Likewise, it's nothing, Karl. Really. One of Merrill's friends found a shipment of smuggled warhounds at the docks, we've been busy.'
'I heard about that. But at night?'
'I'm just settling into the space. Not used to being alone.'
Karl nodded thoughtfully. There was more grey in his beard than Anders remembered.
'I've— been thinking of leaving Kirkwall.'
The coffee cups between them steamed uninterrupted. Karl had a way of making silence speak for him.
'It's been over three years. I'm getting itchy.'
'You want to see a doctor about that.'
'I can give you as much time as you need to find a replacement. I don't want to leave you hanging.'
'Are you going to tell your clients, or do you want me to? Seeing as I've been taking your calls.'
'What do you—' The realisation bloomed. 'Garrett's been calling you? I never should have given him your number.'
A warm smile. 'When Hawke calls, Kirkwall answers. He was wondering if you were in trouble here. I understand there was some interesting business about him and his cat.'
'No! Nothing like that. I just feel like I need to leave.'
'If you're serious.'
'I am.' The reality was solidifying the more he thought about it. It would solve everything. It always does, one way or another.
'Can you do me a big favour?' Karl looked suddenly grave. Karl also never asked for anything.
'Arrange with Merrill to cover for you for two weeks. I can spare an assistant for half the day to handle anything Merrill can't. In,' contemplative, as Karl examined his internal calendar, 'say a fortnight, if she's amenable. You need a break. You look like you're coming apart at the seams.'
'I do not!'
'When's the last time you shaved?' The smile was fond. 'I know the change with Kristoff must be hard for you as well. Take the time to make your decision. If you have some breathing room, you might not want to leave.'
'This isn't something that's going to change, Karl. I'm not going to change. I don't want to let you down, you've done so much for me, but I just can't.'
'A month, Anders. Work two weeks. Sleep for two weeks. Then we'll talk again.'
'I have to warn you, I'll be spending that two weeks packing.'
A chuckle. 'You could pack up your place in two hours. Do you want to tell me what's got you so scared?'
'I am not scared.'
Karl kept smiling slightly, waiting. He drank some more coffee.
But maybe Karl would know. The extra years might have imparted some wisdom beyond a seemingly unshakeable exterior.
'Have you ever.' How to put it. Suffered raging irrational torrents of lust? Anders stopped the laugh before it started, afraid he would choke. 'I have it bad for someone inappropriate. Say a client.'
'Hmm. Greyhound or warhound?'
'When I find out who gave you the impression you were remotely amusing, I'll...do something inappropriate to them.'
'A client.' Karl spun the paper cup, contemplative. 'I've had glimmers, maybe. Of course, the most inappropriate person I've ever been involved with was you. It's not often fourteen year old boys repeatedly break and enter just to splay themselves naked over my bed. It was the hardest two years of my life. A crash course in self control.'
'I'd forgotten I was so provocative. Sorry.'
'I won't ever forgive you the canings for fraternisation,' a wicked glint in the grey eyes. 'I prefer to keep you in my everlasting debt. Still, a client is not really inappropriate in this job. Perhaps if you were a psychologist...' Karl paused to contemplate the horror, affecting a shudder. 'There's no especial conflict. Coming together over a shared love of greyhounds? Unless they're fourteen – no, someone married!' Anders shook his head to all of it. 'Someone whose said they're not interested? Oh, Anders.' Fraternal disapproval.
'That's ... not really why it's inappropriate.'
Karl looked curious, the humour dropping away.
His sex drive was still raging intolerably, but in Garrett's absence the direction was aimless, dangerous. Anders was frightened.
'It's not about them! I feel like I'm losing control! I get angry at the wrong things. At the wrong people. That's a problem down here. I would never do something inappropriate about the—the lust. But it's like it takes every inch of my self control not to, which leaves no strength for anything else.'
Karl pushed aside their coffees and took Anders' hands. In their mothertongue, 'This is your body, my friend. You control what happens within it. What you feel and experience. No one takes this away from you, but for you.'
How could that ever help, when he'd been passed from authority to authority all of whom had owned his body, Kirkwall's strange calms and chaos the closest to freedom he'd ever been? Anders tried not to shout. 'I am not in control. A snappy pseudopsych mantra can't change how I'm made.'
Mild exasperation. 'So you must cut it off.'
Lost in translation. Anders hoped. 'I beg your pardon?'
'Do not think about this person who you cannot have.'
'I have tried.'
A deep sigh. Dropping the old tongue, 'I can just imagine you, sitting in a corner, fingers in your ears, thinking so very, very hard about not thinking about this person. You need to distract yourself. You remember in those classes in school, about idleness doing a demon's work—'
'I try to avoid remembering anything to do with the old catechism.'
'Take the break, Anders. Shave. Find an allotment and plant a row of tomatoes. Go out to dinner. Play diamondback, make new friends.'
All things which were easy for Karl to say. Anders vaguely remembered their schooling, the circle surrounding Karl, always feeling himself on the fringe. The smartarse with no depth. They laughed at his jokes and laughed at him and laughed at him taking the brunt of their tutors' hatred, and laughed at anyone who expressed attraction to him. No one slept with class clowns. Each warm, secret smile Karl gave him meant so much, sparkling reality in a life which felt like someone else's dream, especially when things had gone bad and Karl never cut him off, whatever scorn the circle heaped on him for that loyalty.
'Fine, I'll take the break! But only because I owe you.'
'Obligation can sometimes be a good thing.' Karl let go of his hands and they were back to drinking their coffees. 'I'll pick you up tonight. We can watch Antivan eyebrows without subtitles.'
'How could I refuse.'
Anders called Merrill as soon as Karl was gone, wondering why he was bothering. Why Karl was bothering with him. This was not getting better, for all talking with Karl made him feel less alone. Less trapped. But also annoyed. There was always someone willing to made his fears seem small and absurd.
Monday was a trial. The dogs irritated him, needy things who just couldn't tell him what was wrong. Then he snapped on Tuesday, shouting down two pit owners for the desperately mangled dogs they brought in, euthanising the poor destroyed animals with their myriad old scars and chunks of missing flesh, irrespective of the bastard owners' instructions. The argument went on for an hour, escalating to death threats, until he forcibly evicted them. The guard came late, of course, the interrogation coming so soon after the fight to leave him limp and shaking, his stomach painfully empty and between his legs painfully, stupidly full. Yes, Anders, exactly the right time to get aroused. Taking a side he swore he'd never take. As if animals would ever appreciate his horrified sympathies. Lirene gave him a heavily sugared coffee after the cops left, and locked and barred the clinic's doors efficiently, giving him proud looks and waving off his apologies. 'It had to happen sooner or later. You're not the quiet type. I'll snap off the heads of a few more broomsticks and tape a machete to the underside of the exam tables and your desk, just in case they spring us. Army taught you how to use a blade as well as a gun, right?'
Anders was appalled. He had to get out of here before he hurt anyone again.
All because he'd opened up. Open like a gutted fish, letting Garrett poke around inside until Anders' hadn't realised how deep he'd got his fingers. Two weeks, and hopefully Karl could smooth it over as Anders' inability to control himself.
He made no plans for the two weeks off. Maybe lying around wanking himself raw, until the thought of sex made him sick. Except he was full of so much energy and aimless anger his skin itched at the mere thought of lassitude. Anders woke early in his restlessness and slept late, so decided to use the time to start training again. His body longed for the rigid structure he'd been trying to deny. Four minute showers, long jogs, weapons training, mess hall, stock infirmary, life lived to bells and barked orders. He'd hated it at the time, but maybe he needed it.
Anders thought he could face the upcoming two weeks if he pretended Surana was still there, her last standing orders, his unthinking obedience necessary for his survival. It hadn't been bad, WSR. Compared to jail. He sneered at himself. Hadn't been bad until he'd ruined it, just like everything else.
Kristoff was fine, but visiting him made Anders feel a very physical fear at the sight of the veterans dozing in the sunshine. Any one of them could have been Garrett, taken to pieces. Could have been Anders himself. Anders knew his fear was a privileged and shameful kind of skin-crawling, born from the hyper energy currently flowing through his body. He wondered if it depressed the damaged soldiers to see him bouncing in to spend an evening with Kristoff. If he made them as uncomfortable as he felt around them. Stupid. They had more important things to thing about than him. Even Kristoff had more important things to think about than Anders, with Aura's letters coming thick and fast. She was fighting a battle against Ferelden's fragmented bureaucracy to get the funds to come to Kirkwall, which was slow but progressing. Kristoff had almost smiled. Thanked Anders earnestly, the withered hand gripping Anders' own, desperate and shaking, and Anders felt guilty again at having kept Kristoff from this peace for so long.
As the two week break approached, Merrill called again to make sure of the dates for her cover. 'Are you really thinking about leaving? Is there something more important somewhere? I thought you had no family.'
'Why does it always have to be family? No, it's not anything important. I just...can't do anything in Kirkwall. It's too big, the city. The problems too hard. Dealing with this sort of mutilation and death day after day, it gets to you. I can't build anything here. The work is just day after day, the same thing, never achieving anything better.' Criminal without a cause. Anders felt his mouth twist.
'Well, I'm sure the dogs appreciate you being there. And Fenris, probably. The street children certainly do, it breaks their little hearts every time they find another puppy with shattered tail.'
'It's not enough. I need more.' Sadness, at the thought he would never find it.
'Hn. If you do leave, I'll be sorry to see you go. Do let me know when you go, please? I hate it when my friends disappear.'
Karl called again, too, checking if his intentions had changed. Understanding. Resigned, but not offended.
'You know the best thing about you?'
'My good looks and sex appeal.'
'Representative of the selfish interests of the individual. I'd forgotten. No, Anders. Your honesty.'
Karl didn't often go in for the obscure. Anders bluffed. 'All very well and good when I can afford it.'
The detachment of military thinking helped his nights get easier, too. The desire shifting, changing. Lazier, calmer, after burning off as much energy as he could working, running, sprinting the city's endless stairs. He and Garrett lying in bed together, talking, throbbing erections untouched and just a part of the scene. Garrett splayed naked on the exam table in two, legs spread, while Anders gave him a massage and nothing more. Playing cards naked, drinking casually, sharing long, slow kisses. Anders woke hard and yearning, but it felt less like bonfire and more like the sun, a warm heat caressing, the absence of guilt or shame.
Anders wanted to return to their friendship. He wanted so desperately to see Garrett again. To explain to him why he had to leave, why he'd disappeared for so long. But he knew it was too soon, having made that mistake before. Easier for everyone if he just did what he had to do and left.
Continue to Chapter 11 →
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