Notes: Extra long and slightly trippy, which fits the mood but may surprise you going in, so be ready for it. To all my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving! To those in other countries, fuck it, Happy Thanksgiving to you also! I give thanks for every one of my awesome readers.
PS-no one's perfect, not even my darlings. But I promise to work things out.
PS-no one's perfect, not even my darlings. But I promise to work things out.
Part Fourteen, B: Garrett Interrupted
The first part of the day was…tolerable. That was the best word Garrett could think of to apply to it, and it didn’t cover the soul-deep loathing that he held for Kilroy Dechiara, a man he’d met all of once and who probably didn’t deserve to be thought about the graphically destructive ways Garrett was thinking of him, but fuck it. He was exhausted, he was hopped up on too much strong coffee and his brain felt like it was moments from going offline or exploding into bright black pieces. His vision literally hazed over with color at times, and his stomach roiled with nausea. It had been so long since Garrett had had acute symptoms, he’d forgotten what it was like. Apparently, it was like being poisoned. Fabulous.
He had to hold it together though, long enough to get through the day. Then he could confess, and then he’d take whatever punishment his fiancé decided to dish out and finally he’d go blissfully unconscious for a while as the autodoc reset his hormone levels and put his brain back in order. But first…game face. He and Jonah and Miles sat across from Kilroy and his daughter Charlotte, and Garrett dug the fingernails of his left hand into his palm and reminded himself to keep his breathing easy and his face calm. Calm. It was all fine.
Kilroy was, admittedly, both scared and skeptical when he was brought into the Mansion. He stared hard at Jonah and said, “So this is the way of things then, eh?”
“Not the way you think,” Jonah replied. The tension in his voice was like a live wire, quivering and sparking through the air. Garrett wanted to grab it and wrap it around his hands, and then hit that arrogant asshole of a Drifter in the face until he was quivering too. He could see it all in his mind, and it made him feel better to have a plan.
“Sit down,” Miles said. You didn’t talk back to Miles when he used that voice, and Kilroy and his daughter sat down almost before they could think about it. It was like they’d been hammered into place. Hammer voice…that was an interesting concept, actually, a sonic hammer that you could level against people who needed to be put down mercifully, although honestly, who really merited that? Someone had certainly invented a non-lethal sonic hammer at some point, Garrett could look those specs up and make one for himself, he was good at that. Then he could hammer the shit out of people who bothered his family and they’d back off without having to be dead or disfigured. It was another good plan; he was really on fire right now.
Words happened, they passed through the air from mouth to ear, reverberated for a while and then came out again all rearranged. Garrett tried to be attentive but honestly, who could really listen when you had the shapes of all those words to consider? Trade, it was built like an old style ladder, climbing across nothingness until the next person swallowed it down. Ha, food for thought. Or thought as food. Or something…what?
Kilroy looked dumbfounded. That was a great word, heavy and rubbery. Garrett keyed into what he was saying for a moment. “Why in the sky would you offer us all of that?”
“Because you need it and we need you,” Miles said simply. “Paradise is in a very brittle state. A third party would help to defuse those tensions and give the populace another choice, and at the same time your people would have the option of a home base, and a way to expand your livelihoods without having to worry about being displaced. As long as you didn’t directly aid in any terrorist activities, of course,” he added, and now his voice was hard again, the hammer voice. It kind of hurt to hear, it was too much like anger. “This offer is contingent on you behaving like law-abiding citizens and being willing to let us perform sweeps of your ships to prove it.”
“It’s a good deal, Kilroy,” Jonah said, and his voice was soft and persuasive and Garrett just wanted to wrap it around his aching head and let it muffle all the harsh light and loud noises. Jonah had the best voice, drawling and affectionate and delicious. It was warm and insulating, and in his mind Garrett stuck his hands into that honey-warm voice and let it ease their chills, because they were so cold that his fingers were practically numb. In reality, his hands twitched a little but didn’t move from his lap.
There were more words following, debate, but it wasn’t trading blow for blow like Garrett had thought it might be. It was more like grav-ball, with players getting mowed down every so often but generally getting closer and closer to the enemy’s goal until you scored. That was good, Garrett could get behind that. He watched his father and Kilroy gain a few meters, get struck back, gain a few more, and then suddenly the goal was there and something was being signed. When had that happened? Garrett hoped that he had at least managed to look like he was paying attention, because. Not. Happening.
Kilroy looked over at Jonah once the deal was gone, and his voice was oddly sympathetic. “Jack’s going to come at you hard for this.”
“He already knows we’re not playing his game,” Jonah said, and when had that happened? “He and his lawyer are on their way here.”
“Good luck with him. He’s worse than a feral snipe over your boy.”
What the hell was a feral snipe? Garrett immediately pictured a skinny, patchy little creature with oversized claws and fangs, hissing at him. Then he pictured himself blowing it away into a snipe-shaped cloud of bloody particles, and felt better.
Kilroy and his daughter left, and the room seemed to take a breath as everyone sighed at once. “Good. That’s the hard part done,” Miles said. “I’ll get the Gunny in here, he can go over what he’s prepared as far as a defense of your sole right to Cody. You’ve only got an hour before Jack gets here with his lawyer, who is unfortunately rather biased against me as a representative of the Federation, so use your time wisely. This could get ugly.” He stood up and left the room.
Jonah lay back in his chair and kicked his legs out. “I can’t wait for this to be over.”
“Me neither,” Garrett agreed. “I was supposed to be tasting cakes with Claudia today.”
“Oh, hell. I’ve been so wrapped up in Jack and Kilroy that I almost forgot about the wedding.” Jonah smiled apologetically at Garrett and didn’t notice when his words took root in Garrett’s lungs and turned them to ice. The wedding was the whole reason they were here, wasn’t it? Really? They had come to get married, and everything else had just sort of gone to shit after that, but getting married was still the big goal. Not brokering living deals between two cultures, although Garrett supposed that was kind of, maybe, marginally important. But that sort of thing happened every day, while Garrett had never ever been married before. It was kind of momentous, if he said so himself.
“You did divorce Jack, didn’t you?” he forced out through chilly lips. His lungs felt so icy it was amazing his breath didn’t steam in the air.
Jonah smiled crookedly. “We were never officially married. Couldn’t get my mama’s approval. I didn’t think it mattered, when things were good. And then it was too late to matter in the end.”
“Oh.” Too late to matter. Not good words. Not applicable to them, but still not good. Garrett wanted nothing more than to drag Jonah to the nearest official and get their marriage license, then wrap his fingers around Jonah’s hand as he signed the paper so he could feel the reality of the words.
Jonah sat up a little. “You look so tired, darlin’. Why don’t you go catch a nap? I can handle things with the lawyer. Then you’ll be fresh for when we’ve gotta deal with Jack.”
Are you getting rid of me too? Why was he trying to get rid of Garrett? Had Jonah tired of him already? “You don’t want me here?” Garrett asked, trying not to tremble.
“Course I want you here, but you look like you need sleep more.”
Ah. A polite excuse. Jonah didn’t want him here for this. Garrett wasn’t being useful, he was distracting, he was stupid, he was useless. “I’ll go.” He stood up to leave. Jonah stood up too.
“Wait,” he said. He took Garrett’s shoulders in his hands and pulled him in close for a kiss. Garrett inhaled and felt the ice in his chest melt with the warmth of Jonah’s breath. He could still breathe. His heart could still beat. It wasn’t too late. “I love you.”
“I love you more,” Garrett told him honestly. “I’ll try to sleep.”
“I’ll come and get you before things get started.”
“Okay.” Garrett left the room, passing Gunnery Sergeant Fred Bowman in the hall. The gunny raised an eyebrow.
“You’re not staying for the briefing?” He sounded displeased. It was like a smothering blanket had been thrown over the tiny happy flame that had just sprung up in Garrett’s mind.
Well, Garrett didn’t care about his displeasure. He shrugged the blanket off. “I’ve been told I need to sleep if I’m going to be useful this afternoon.”
Gunny eyed him. “You do look like you need it. But try to plan more responsibly in the future, won’t you? This isn’t the sort of thing that one half of a couple should go through alone.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” you arrogant son of a bitch. Garrett kind of wanted to smash his arrogant face into the wall, but this was their lawyer, they needed him. He just left and walked down the hall toward the kitchen, because he was tired but he knew he wouldn’t sleep, not now. He stopped a little ways outside of it when he heard the noise coming from the room. He could hear Cody in there, and Wyl, and Claudia and the baby. They sounded, well, happy. Not at all worried like everyone else seemed to be. Garrett peeked around the corner and took a look inside.
They were all eating…cake. Lots of tiny samples were spread across the kitchen counter and they were eating them and laughing, and they looked perfectly happy, and wasn’t that something he was supposed to do today?
Jonah doesn’t want me in the briefing and Claudia doesn’t need me for the wedding. Great. He could have gone in, but that would have felt like crashing a party. Instead Garrett turned around and headed back to his suite, but even once he was on the bed, curled onto Jonah’s half, he couldn’t sleep. He knew he wouldn’t, but he couldn’t even relax. Garrett felt superfluous to his own existence. Superfluous…a fluid word, thin and slippery, a word tossed off the top of a very high, very important building that oozed at great speed down the slick sides, dissipating more and more with every second, until it was nothing but a glaze sliding into a foggy, bogged down oblivion.
There was an uncomfortable starkness to the whole thing that Garrett couldn’t tear his eyes away from. He didn’t even move the first few times someone shook his shoulder. “Garrett?” Soft voice, sweet sounds. “Gare?” Her hand was too gentle. “Honey, it’s time for the meeting.”
“Gare?” Claudia sat on the bed next to him and brushed his hair away from his forehead. “Jack Vendam and his lawyer are here. You need to come to the meeting. Jonah and Mr. Bowman are waiting for you.”
“I’ll be right there.” He smiled for her and it must have been convincing, because she left. Garrett stopped in the bathroom and ran a freshening cloth over his face. He looked at himself critically, then added some foundation beneath his eyes. There. Now he looked like he had rested. He left his room and walked back into the belly of the beast, and found Jonah there with the gunny looking better than Garrett had expected.
“Hey, darlin’.” Jonah took his hand and pulled him down next to him on the couch. “They’re coming in.”
“Showtime,” Garrett said. The sergeant snorted. Garrett refrained from kicking him in the head, just barely, before Jack and his lawyer were shown in.
Jack was not what Garrett had expected. He was tall and broad, good looking but in a simple, hearty way. His curly hair was a dark mirror of Cody’s, but beyond that the boy could have been all Jonah. He was also angry. He was seething, quietly, but Garrett could see it in the set of his shoulders and the shallowness of his breathing. He was probably furious at being turned on by Kilroy, and now this. His gaze fell on Garrett, dark and calculating, and it felt like two knives being driven through Garrett’s eye sockets. Tiny, tiny, super sharp knives. Monofilament blades, too thin to see but big enough to do damage.
Jack didn’t speak. His lawyer, a thin, hatchet-faced woman, did. “We’ll be suing for full custody of the child.” Boy, she went on the offensive fast. Jonah stiffened in shock.
“There’s no basis of law for that,” Sergeant Bowman said immediately. “Your client has willfully ignored his parental rights for the past four years, no child support given, no efforts to reach out to the child taken.”
“My client was denied his parental rights when your client absconded with the boy.”
“Your client knew full well the intention and destination of his former spouse and could have reached out to stop them or become a part of the process at any time. He didn’t.”
The words continued. This was no game, nothing cooperative about it like the last one. Each sentence was a salvo at the other side, and Jonah and Jack just stared at each other, neither of them willing to give an inch. Garrett sat still and absorbed the energy of the words if not the words themselves; they were too rapid and to spiky for him to latch onto.
A file was displayed on the table. “Medical records,” Jack’s lawyer said briskly. “Concerning Cody’s health while in the sole custody of Jonah Helms. Three incidences of broken bones, two incidences of illness requiring hospitalization. These are hardly indicative of a caring and competent father.”
“Cody Helms is a natural, he’s genetically prone to incidents like this,” Bowman fired back. “Most children can be treated for minor injuries in an hour; for Cody recovery takes weeks, even months. His father took appropriate medical action at each incident.”
“But the circumstances surrounding the very incidents themselves are suspect,” she argued. “Letting a child with special needs run rampant on a Drifter ship? This is the definition of neglectful parenting.”
“I’ve never neglected my boy,” Jonah said, and his voice was hardly above a growl. “And anything you’re getting’ from that particular source isn’t reliable. My mother and I aren’t on the best of terms.”
“And yet you stayed on her ship and allowed her to watch your child?” The lawyer sniffed derogatorily. “Yet another example of poor decision making.”
“Either she’s a credible witness or a useless sack of a person, you can’t have it both ways,” Bowman said irritably.
“We have other witness statements on their way in right now. This is just a preliminary meeting.”
“Good, then we’ll have plenty of time to compile our own statements concerning your client’s utter lack of parenting skills and inability to be a decent human being.”
“Mr. Vendam has never been convicted of a crime.”
“That hardly makes him a model citizen.”
The lawyers continued sparring for a while before things finally ran out of steam. Garrett was seeing a rainbow of colors in his head, all of them dripping down into his mouth and making it taste bitter, but then Jack spoke up for the first time, and Garrett refocused on him with needle point scrutiny.
“I want to see Cody.”
“No,” Jonah said immediately.
“I want to see my son,” Jack repeated. “I’m entitled to take a look at the boy you’ve kept from me for so long. Does he even remember me?”
“Because you’ve been lying to him about me,” Jack bit out. “I want to see him. Ain’t leavin’ here until I do, Jonah.”
Jonah glanced at his lawyer. The sergeant shrugged his shoulders. “It’s your call. It won’t set any sort of precedent, you don’t have to worry about that.”
The incongruity of the word coming out of Jack’s mouth was like a punch in the gut to Garrett, but it seemed to pacify Jonah. He sighed. “Fine. Wait here.” He left the room, and the lawyers began talking again, and Jack seemed to feel Garrett staring at him, and he stared back. After a moment, he sneered.
“You hardly even look like a man.”
“Mind your words, Mr. Vendam,” Bowman warned.
“He like you for your pretty face or for your money?”
“Be quiet,” Jack’s own lawyer warned. Garrett was hardly bothered by Jack lashing out at him; honestly it made him feel better when the guy was being the enormous dick Garrett knew him to be, not someone worthy of Jonah’s consideration. He didn’t say anything, just kept staring, and Jack shifted uncomfortably and finally looked away.
Jonah and Cody came in a minute later. Cody was leaning into Jonah’s side, and he didn’t look happy to be here. Jack’s face immediately changed though, becoming soft and smiling. “Hey, Cody,” he said.
“Hi,” Cody mumbled, glancing over at the lawyers, then at Garrett.
“Can you come over here for a minute? I just want to talk to you a little.”
“I don’t think so,” Cody said, even though he moved with Jonah as Jonah came back to the couch. Jack reached out an entreating hand to him.
“Just for a minute? You don’t have to sit with me, we can just talk.”
Cody looked down at his feet and mumbled, “No.”
“Cody,” Jack said, sounding a little exasperated now. “I’m not gonna hurt you. I just want to get a better look at you. Come here.” His hand closed the last few inches between them and clasped around Cody’s wrist. Cody reflexively pulled back with a sound of discontent, and Garrett saw pure red.
That was wrong. Jack’s hand on Cody was wrong, and so Garrett had to remove his hand. He had to keep Jack from touching Cody. In one smooth, fast move, Garrett reached over and grabbed Jack’s ring and pinkie fingers, the ones that allowed him to make a fist and close his hand, and broke them. He didn’t even hear Jack’s howl or the gasps of surprise and dismay. He reset his leverage, then broke Jack’s wrist, twisting it sharply to the right with a crack and bringing Jack down in a sprawling mess over the table. Then he broke Jack’s elbow against his knee, just to be sure he couldn’t use the arm. He thought about moving on to his shoulder, but then he heard the whimper. Not Jack’s, he didn’t care about that, but Cody’s.
Garrett looked over at Cody and saw his eyes were wide with alarm, and his lips were trembling. He looked scared. Scared of Garrett, and that was wrong, that was even worse than Jack wrong. Garrett dropped Jack’s arm just as Jonah’s hands turned him around. They gripped him too tightly, bruising.
“What the hell?” Jonah demanded. His anxious eyes searched Garrett’s face, and Garrett felt the judgmental weight of them. “What’s wrong with you, Garrett?” That was a good question, an angry question. Everything was wrong with him, apparently.
“Clearly this is an unsafe environment for the child!” Jack’s lawyer shouted as she helped Jack to sit up. “We’ll be filing criminal assault charges in addition to—”
“No.” It was the hammer voice, Miles’ voice. He was at the doorway, had probably come running when he heard Jack scream. He was staring straight at Garrett. “My son needs serious medical attention and your client needs a doctor. One is already on the way. You are staying here because this discussion is far from over. Garrett,” he moved in close, pushed Jonah’s clenching, painful hands out of the way and cupped Garrett’s face with his own. “Son, when’s the last time you took your medication?”
“What?” Garrett’s mind was fuzzy with shock, the reality of what he’d just done slowly seeping in. Oh…oh no. “What?”
“Your medication.” Miles’ voice was soothing and cool, talking him down like he had during the Year of Togetherness, learning to live again after being institutionalized. “When did you last take it?”
“Oh, Gare.” His father pulled him close and brought their foreheads together. “We need to get you to the infirmary. We’re going to go now, all right?”
“What’s happenin’?” Jonah didn’t sound angry any more, just confused, but Garrett still couldn’t bring himself to look at him. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you later.” Miles gently pulled Garrett through the crowd of people now in the room, away from Jonah and Cody, away from Jack and his pitbull, away from Wyl and Robbie and Claudia who were looking at him with wide eyes. He kept his gaze on his father, the only one holding him together right now. They moved slowly, Miles stepping backwards the whole way to the infirmary, keeping Garrett’s eyes occupied. If he looked away, he would die, splintered into a thousand pieces. He was sure of it.
“Come on, son.” Garrett followed the eyes and the voice and the gentle hands, until he was laid back on a spongy bed. Miles put restraints on his wrists and ankles, looking apologetic, but Garrett didn’t mind. You couldn’t let a crazy person just go running around unshackled. A hologram leapt into the air and said things, and made Miles look like he was in pain. Garrett had to do something to make it better.
“I know.” His father kissed his forehead. “You have to sleep for a while now, son.”
“No, I can’t!” Garrett tried to sit up, suddenly remembering what he had to do, but the restraints were already in place. “No! I have to tell Jonah something, something important…” But what was it? “There was something, please,” he pleaded with his father. “I have to tell him. He’s going to leave me and he won’t even know what I did to deserve it.”
“He won’t leave you. He loves you. You can tell him when you wake up, baby boy.”
“No…” Garrett felt drowsy and hated it. He knew it was the medication the autodoc had administered. “No, Dad. Dad…”
“It’s okay, Gare.” Through the stars flying across his vision Garrett could make out Miles’ face, still comforting, still watching him. Watching him…Miles was here, he would make it okay. He had never lied to Garrett before, he took care of him when it was bad. “Go to sleep. You’ll have a chance to make things better when you’re healthy again.”
“But you will be, son,” Miles promised him. Garrett let the heavy solemnity of that promise draw him down into the well of unconsciousness. There, at least, there was no more pain.