“At least you got a therapist.” The remnants of Kieran’s breadstick moved like a conductors baton, scattering crumbs as he did a little gesturing of his own and almost colliding with her wine glass in mid-air. “Crap, sorry—- and anyway, Varric’s alright. Seems like a mate more than a therapist, so that’s got to count for something, right?”
Particle physics. Briefly, Kieran let himself wonder where particle physics would fall on the scale of human relationships – or whether it would even qualify. She did this often, he noticed: got him thinking about this possibility or that silly notion. It rarely made sense, and tended to lead to meandering conversations that had them both yawning the next day at work, but they were the sort of talks to look back on and smile, to be fondly recalled over future beers as they started the cycle all over again. They actually talked, not like—– well. They actually talked, was the point, about anything and everything, from weird tangents to her equally weird friends, and in spite of himself, he found himself smiling, enjoying the patter for the distraction it was.
“Your friend Isabela is a legend.” He said emphatically, grinning. “Y’know, when she’s not trying to grab my arse on the sly, but what can you do?” He chuckled, but that brief moment of levity faded just as quickly, the two of them settling back into something considerably more sober. “Kinda envy her, sometimes. I don’t think she’d ever let herself be caught up in any sort of complicated… not that sort, anyway.”
The servers moved as though on rails, swerving effortlessly through the crowds, and Kieran followed Marian’s gaze to watch them, his gaze lingering far longer than hers. Her summary of the situation – as good a euphemism as any – earned her a rueful snort, but it took a little time before he looked back to her, eyes following the mounds of plates and wine and piles upon piles of breadsticks without truly seeing. It was the warmth in her voice that brought him back, his smile as grateful as it was gentle. “Tangled up.” He repeated quietly, and a hand crept across the tablecloth to lie atop hers, squeezing in wordless thanks. “…I think I like that better than mine.”
Tangled up. His stomach certainly felt that way, his breadstick reduced to crumbs on the table rather than the standard path of mouth to stomach, all flakes of crust and smears of butter. All he needed was crayons and a colouring mat and he’d be a three-year-old too big to fit in his high chair. He brushed them away with a grimace, tipping them into the ashtray they weren’t actually allowed to use in this restaurant. He set it aside, resisting the urge to wipe his clammy hands on his nice new dinner slacks, and let out his breath in a long low sigh.
“No harm in telling, I guess,” He said at length – although at that moment, the urge to take up his wineglass and down the lot was looking to be quite attractive. He took another deep breath, his crumb-covered hands clasped on the tabletop to keep from fidgeting. It didn’t work. “I met her four years ago, when I was twenty-two, going on twenty-three. She was… older. Red hair, taller than me with these eyes that could either light you up from the inside or cut you—- you know the type? Don’t even have to say a word, they just… cut you down right where you stand.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever fallen so hard… or so fast. My family and friends didn’t like her, were always suspicious around her, which should have been a red flag, but… I was crazy about her. She acted like a Queen, and I saw her as one: would have done anything for her. Lie, cheat, steal… it didn’t matter. I’d have robbed a bank stark bollock naked and dancing the Macarena if it meant she’d look at me and smile.”
For a few moments, Marian thought she might have overstepped. Kieran’s warm hand lifted from hers to find some crumbs, brushing fastidiously before moving to clasp the tabletop. A familiar apology was just forming on her lips; typical Hawke, always sticking her nose where it didn’t belong. She reached forward, batted a few crumbs around for good measure, and was just opening her mouth to make a joke about him attracting pigeons, when Kieran suddenly began speaking again and the words dissolved like sugar on her tongue.
As he spoke, a picture filled itself in. What he described as ‘red’, Marian assumed to be long and mermaid-glossy. Tall was statuesque, no, Amazonian! Obviously, but the way he described the eyes…the eyes she understood in mortal concepts. If Malcolm Hawke were sitting here, he probably would have slapped the table and chimed in with a ‘Hot damn! Sounds like my kind of woman!’
Thinking about that, Marian took a sip of her wine, listening in repose. When Kieran said ‘family and friends’, one face leapt to mind ahead of the others: Felix. Oh, the flinty glances the blonde man had shot Marian at the wedding reception until he and Garrett found a bottle of Connemara whiskey to drown their conspiracy theories in. She understood though, all too well. She would have acted the same if Carver were still alive to be his rash, let-me-learn-the-hard-way self.
“I’d have paid to see that,” Marian flashed a smile. “Unchoreographed bank robberies are getting so dull these days – I can see the headline now. ‘Man Without Pockets Makes Liberal Withdrawal’,” she chuckled, then waved her own humour away. “Sorry. There’s a reason they keep me up in the news helicopter and out of the media room.” She nudged Kieran’s leg beneath the table and kept hers there against it for extra support.
“So, how’s it end with the Red Queen and the dancing fool?”