A/N: Warning for more violence in this chapter.
Gareth was only out for a moment. He blinked awake to find Tag standing over him with the knife and came to very quickly after that, biting back tears and holding a hand out. “Don’t!” he slurred. “Don’t kill me. Just listen. Please, you need to let me live.”
Tag hesitated and looked at his brother. Even through the pain, Gareth could tell who the smarter brother was. He wondered if he could use that to pit them against each other.
“Do we?” The vendor asked.
“Yes. You see, I have more money, it’s just not with me. Let me live, and I’ll reward you. But you won’t get any of it if I’m dead.”
“And how do we know you’re gonna—,”
The vendor cut off mid-sentence with a gasp and looked down at his chest, the gasp turning to a splutter when he saw the blade sticking out of it. The glint of the blade retracted, a dark stain taking its place. Then, a hand wrapped around the side of the man’s head from behind, slamming him sideways into the wall. Gareth flinched at the cracking sound his head made when it hit the brick.
The vendor collapsed on the ground, a man with a bloodstained sword standing over him. He glanced at Gareth but didn’t otherwise pay him much attention, instead focusing on Tag.
“Watch out for his knife,” Gareth mumbled from his spot on the ground. Tag’s blade flashed in the moonlight as its owner lunged, but the newcomer dropped his own weapon and sidestepped the attack easily, looking more like a dancer than a brawler, and caught Tag’s forearm. He twisted the limb until Tag cried out and dropped the knife.
The newcomer moved so fast Gareth almost couldn’t follow.
But then, maybe it was just the head wound.
Without his weapon, Tag was left wide open, barely able to put up a fight when the man grabbed him by the hair, yanked Tag’s head down, and brought his knee up until it met the Tag’s face. The thief collapsed onto the ground, motionless.
Gareth squinted. “Did you kill him?”
“No. I don’t think so, anyway.” The man glanced at the other brother’s body, where long fingers of blood were snaking along the ground toward him, reaching for him. “I try to limit myself to one murder a day. Are you alright?”
The man’s voice sounded familiar, as did his accent— it was the softer, rounded accent of the north. Gareth peered up at the man, trying to place him, but the alley was dark and his right eye was beginning to swell shut. “I will be, thanks to you.”
The man hummed and retrieved his sword, a sleek, narrow thing that he wiped off and tucked easily into a sheath at his hip. When he started toward Gareth, Gareth shrank back, and the man stilled, held his hands up between them. “Come on, it’s alright,” he said, his voice gentle. “I only want to check your injuries.”
“Can I trust you?”
The man tutted. “You really did take a wrong turn somewhere, didn’t you? You shouldn’t trust anyone in Greysdale. But,” he said cheerfully, “I don’t see that you really have a choice.”
“I’m looking for Kramer Street,” Gareth mumbled as the man knelt beside him.
“You’re quite a way off. Come on, it’s too dark to see here. Let’s get out of this alley before your friend wakes up.”
The man helped Gareth to his feet, then let Gareth take a few stumbling steps on his own, still there to catch Gareth when he stumbled.
“Bit woozy,” Gareth said.
“Uh-huh, clearly. Hold onto the wall,” the man said. Gareth did, grimacing at the grime he felt under his fingers. He watched the man retrieve Gareth’s pocketbook and cigarette case.
“You’re going to rob me now, too, are you?”
The man raised an eyebrow and rifled through the pocketbook before shrugging and passing it back to Gareth. “Nah. There’s not enough in there to make it worth it.”
Gareth squinted. Without better seeing his face, he really couldn’t tell whether the man was joking.
He helped lead Gareth away. Gareth normally wouldn’t have accepted the help, but everything hurt and he could barely see the path ahead of him, so he leaned into the man for support as they hobbled to the end of the alley and emerged onto a sparsely crowded street.
The man pushed Gareth gently onto a bench. “Sit. Let me get a look at you.”
He knelt in front of Gareth, studied his face. It gave Gareth a chance to study him in return, but past the pounding in his head and the blur to his vision, all he really noticed were the man’s wide, dark eyes. His overall impression didn’t get much further than young and earnest.
“Atiuh and the Three, you’re lucky I was following you.”
“What?” Gareth asked.
“I said you’re lucky I found you,” the man repeated with a bright smile. “I’m Roman, by the way. Roman Hallisey.”
“I wish I could say it was a pleasure, Mr. Hallisey, but given the circumstances…” Gareth trailed off. “Name’s Gareth Ranulf.”
“I’ll say it, then! It’s a pleasure, Mr. Ranulf.”
“Have we met before? You seem terribly familiar.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Roman said, smile turning sly. “How could I forget a pretty face like yours?”
“Is that some sort of jest?” Gareth reached up to touch his nose, but Roman batted his hand away.
“Don’t do that,” He said. “Touching will only make it worse. It’s stopped bleeding, at least.”
“Is it broken?”
“I can’t tell. I don’t think so.”
“And my eye? Is it bad that it’s swollen like this?”
Roman laughed. “You have a strange idea of what’s good if you have to ask, Mr. Ranulf. But you’ll live, if that’s what you mean.”
“How long is it going to be like this?”
“The swelling? A couple of days. Weeks to heal completely, I think. You’re going to have a nasty bruise for a while.”
“You seem to know a lot about how this works.”
Roman smirked, the expression too deliberately innocent to be genuine. “I’ve seen some similar injuries in my time.”
“Right,” Gareth said, unsure how to respond. “Thank you for the help.”
Roman patted Gareth. “Of course. You’re going to be just fine, Mr. Ranulf. Anywhere else hurt? They didn’t stab you or anything, did they? I assume you would’ve mentioned it already.”
“No, they just…hit me a few times.”
“Are you dizzy?”
“No. Yes. Maybe when I was standing,” Gareth admitted.
“You might have a concussion. Or be in shock.” Roman stood and looked down at Gareth, tilting his head to one side. “I don’t know; I’m not a doctor. I think you’ll be just fine, though. Let’s go. Kramer Street, you said?”
“Yes,” Gareth said, accepting Roman’s help up. He hadn’t been standing for ten seconds before he turned to the side and hurled.
“Ah,” Roman said, wrinkling his nose. “Maybe a hospital is a good idea, after all. Come on. There’s one on the way.”
Gareth nodded, the taste of bile too fresh on his tongue to argue, and let Roman lead him down the street.
“Interesting name,” he said, once he’d recovered enough to speak.
“Mine? Thank you, I think. Romanos is a celestial being in Borean mythology. Ro- meaning ‘above’ and –manos meaning all personkind, or the like,” Roman said, waving his hand grandly. “My mother was a bit fanciful, with a particular idea about who I should be. You know, mothers. She thought ‘Roman’ was a name for someone who’d do great things.”
“And have you? Done great things, I mean?”
Roman’s smile fell a little. “That depends on how you define ‘great,’ I suppose.”
“I would say saving a man’s life qualifies as great.”
“They wouldn’t have killed you,” Roman said. His tone was still flippant, but he looked away from Gareth, embarrassed by the praise. “Just robbed you blind.”
“Speaking of blind, I can’t see a damned thing out of this eye. I can barely tell what you look like.” Gareth went to touch the eye in question, which was swollen completely shut, but Roman again batted his hand away.
“Don’t touch. To be fair, I can’t tell what you look like, either. Right now you look like an ogre who’s been painted red and stung by too many bees.”
Gareth scowled. They walked in silence for a minute, until he asked, “So why’d you do it?”
“What, save you?”
“Yes. I’m not sure anyone else would have.”
Roman shrugged with one shoulder, the other supporting Gareth. “I was there; I heard you call out. That’s it.” He looked over at Gareth, grinning at the man’s affronted expression. “Not the answer you were expecting?”
“I admit I was hoping for something a little more heroic. It’s not particularly comforting knowing I’m only alive because of a young man’s whims.”
Roman laughed, then steered Gareth out of the way of a large hole in the pavement. “I told you, they wouldn’t have killed you.”
“I am glad you did it, anyhow. Thank you, Mr. Hallisey.”
“Mm.” Roman stopped suddenly. “We’re here.”
Gareth squinted up at the squat, prison-like building Roman indicated. “This is the hospital?”
“You’re still technically in Greysdale. This is the best hospital you’re going to find.”
“I…I should be getting home,” Gareth stammered, hesitating when Roman tried tugging him toward the hospital. “I can have the maid call for a physician there.”
“You’re going to go home looking like that? Do you have a wife, Gareth? I’m guessing you do. Kids, too. You seem the type. You don’t want to show up at home looking like—,”
“An ogre stung by bees?” Gareth finished. “Maybe you’re right.”
“I often am. Now, be reasonable. They’re not going to hurt you; they’ll just clean you up and make sure nothing’s broken,” Roman said, patting Gareth on the back.
“You won’t—,” Gareth began, biting his tongue when he realized how silly he was about to sound.
“You won’t leave me, will you? I could never find my way home alone.”
Roman’a expression softened. “I’ll stay. Do you need me to hold your hand?”
“Oh, stop it. Just make sure they sterilize everything,” Gareth grumbled as he pushed past Roman into the building.
“Sure, but if you need stitches, I’m waiting in the hallway,” Roman called, trailing after Gareth.
Gareth led the way into the surprisingly bright foyer, stopping just inside. It was well-lit and clean; the sterile smell that flooded his nostrils, while unpleasant, was familiar. “It’s much nicer inside,” he observed.
“You don’t judge a dragon by the shine of its scales,” Roman said. “Sit. I’ll go talk to the nurse for you.”
Gareth did as he was told, sliding into the closest seat and cringing at the sharp pain that trilled up his side. While the harshness of the lights made his head pound, they did make it easier to see. Gareth’s attention wandered across the room, to where the nurses sat behind a great stone desk. Roman spoke with them, leaning against the desk like it belonged to him. Gareth couldn’t make out what was being said, could only hear the songlike cadence of Roman’s accent.
Mr. Hallisey was one of those individuals whose age was hard to place. He was easily younger than Gareth’s forty-two, everything about him exuding an almost childlike exuberance. If Gareth were pressed, he’d guess under thirty, over twenty, but couldn’t say where the man fell within that range.
Roman wore tight-fitting trousers tucked into tall boots and an open waistcoat without a jacket. His hair was at a length between the two currently popular styles— too long to fit the close-cropped style of younger and working men, but not long enough to tuck behind his ears, a look the upper class wore. It was too messy to be fashionable, at any rate. The curly mop seemed permanently ruffled, and Gareth understood why when he watched Roman reach up and tangle a hand through it. Nothing about Roman was fashionable, really, but he had enough charm and natural attraction to excuse it.
The nurse nodded at something he said, then looked over to where Gareth sat. Roman beckoned him over.
“Mr. Ranulf?” the nurse asked as he approached, pushing several forms and a pen across the desk toward him. “Could you sign these for me? Do you need someone to read them for you?”
“No, no,” Gareth said, brushing her off with a wave of the hand. “I can do it.”
“The nurse will take you back right away, but I’m afraid your friend will have to wait here.”
Gareth’s hand hovered just above the signature line. He glanced nervously at Roman.
“I told you I’d wait,” Roman reminded him.
“I apologize if I’m keeping you from any prior plans.”
“Of course, I’m happy to compensate you for your time.”
Roman shrugged. “If you’re offering.”
“Even better. Now Gareth, stop making this poor nurse wait on you. I’ll be here when you get back. You can thank me more then.”
Gareth followed the nurse deeper into the hospital. After ushering him into a barren room, she bade him sit while she moved to an old sink in the corner. It clanged and rattled when she turned it on, and the water ran red for a moment before clearing. A moment later, she returned to Gareth with a bowl of water and a cloth and began to clean the caked blood from off his face.
Gareth gritted his teeth through it, and by the time she’d finished, the water in the bowl was a dusky red. With a gentle, “Wait here,” the nurse left the room and returned minutes later with a small canvas bag in hand. Gareth almost dropped it when she handed it to him, not expecting it to be cold and wet.
“Ice,” she explained with an encouraging smile. “For the swelling.”
“Thank you.” Gareth lifted the ice to his eye, sucking in a sharp breath at its first contact with his skin.
Shortly after the nurse left a second time, the doctor swept in. “Mr. Ranulf? My name is Dr. Carthian. Can you tell me what happened?”
Gareth explained what happened, leaving out the part where he’d just come from a secret Unity meeting. The doctor asked a series of questions about how Gareth was feeling, where he had been hit, if anything hurt, and how much he could remember. No, he felt fine aside from a few aches and pains. Yes, he could remember his name, the date, his address. No, he didn’t feel particularly groggy or dizzy.
“I don’t think you’re in shock. May I?” the doctor asked, holding his hand near Gareth’s face but not touching. Gareth frowned and nodded.
The doctor checked Gareth’s pupils, waved a finger back and forth and told Gareth to follow it with his eyes. He then poked and prodded and performed some tests and all in all, it was over in under two minutes. “Hmm. Bruised ribs, a mild concussion, swelling around your eye and nose, but nothing worse than that. Nothing that warrants immediate medical attention, anyway.”
Gareth blinks at him. “You can tell all that from just a few tests? Sorry, I only mean…that wasn’t very thorough.”
The doctor smiled pleasantly. “I’m rosanin.”
“Oh,” Gareth said, still not understanding.
The rosanin were a class of individuals born with inexplicable abilities. Common superstition used to say they were blessed by the Guardians, and even with all the scientific advancements of the last several hundred years, experts had yet to come up with a better explanation. Gareth didn’t know much about the rosanin—no one did. They tended to keep their abilities to themselves.
Gareth would do the same, if his kind had been persecuted since before the Great War.
The doctor smiled at him, used to this sort of confusion. “Our gifts vary, you know. Some have a knack for gambling, can see sound as color, read auras, or have perfect aim. Me, I find injuries—I can tell when something’s not as it should be, especially with human bodies. A lot of hospitals have someone like me on staff, especially in areas with high intake—it speeds up the process, saves everyone time.”
“It sounds like you’ve had to make that speech before.”
“Patients tend to be skeptical if I don’t,” the doctor said, expression tight. “As I said, none of your injuries require medical treatment, though I do suggest that you look at changing your diet or exercise routine—there’s a slightly concerning plaque buildup in your arteries. Nothing that can’t be fixed with a small lifestyle change. I recommend resting a few weeks until you’re healed. Ice your nose and eye for half an hour four times a day, if you can.”
“Before you go, I can give you medication for the pain, but it might impair your motor functions for a few hours. It’ll be like you’re drunk,” the doctor explained, seeing Gareth’s wary expression. “You should take it, Mr. Ranulf. I imagine you must be in a lot of pain right now.”
Gareth sighed. “Since you recommend it so strongly, Doctor, I would be remiss in ignoring you.”
The doctor moved to the room’s only cabinet, unlocked it, and grabbed a bottle of the top shelf. “Drink,” he ordered, passing a small cup of the thick, clear liquid to Gareth. Gareth nearly gagged when he caught a whiff.
“Revolting, I know,” the doctor said. Gareth shuddered, steeled himself, and drained the cup. Ignoring Gareth’s coughing, the doctor continued. “If you experience pain when this wears off, laudanum should do the trick.”
“I’m sure I don’t have to tell you to be careful during the next few hours, while the medicine takes effect. If you’re willing to wait in the foyer for a few minutes, I’ll have a nurse bring you a fresh bag of ice. Do you remember how to get back there from here?”
“I think so,” Gareth said, sliding off the cold metal table. “Thank you.”
The doctor waved a goodbye as Gareth left the room.
When Gareth found his way back to the waiting room, he was relieved to see that Roman had indeed stayed. The young man sat near the door, picking at his nails, and didn’t notice Gareth until he dropped into the seat next to him.
“Your face is clean!” was the first thing he said.
“Yes, apparently the doctor needs to see the injury in order to be able to assess it,” Gareth said dryly.
Roman snorted. “Clean him up and suddenly he’s a comedian.”
Gareth huffed and sat. “Sorry. It’s just that this whole bloody visit has been a waste of time.”
“And that’s why we’re sitting here and not leaving, is it?”
“A nurse is bringing me a fresh bag of ice,” Gareth said, pulling the current bag away from his eye and shaking it so Roman could hear the slosh of water.
“Why was it a waste? It was fast, at least.”
“The doctor didn’t do anything, just told me to rest. Nothing I wouldn’t have figured out on my own.”
“Well,” Roman began, “At least you know there’s nothing worse to worry about.”
“He did give me some medicine.”
Gareth shook his head.
“No?” Roman asked, studying Gareth. His face fell. “Tell me it wasn’t Carujan Oil.”
“Clear liquid. Kinda thick and sticky. Smells and tastes like goblin piss.”
“That sounds right,” Gareth said. His nose wrinkled at the memory. “Why is that bad? He’s the doctor, Mr. Hallisey. I believe he knows best.”
“Sure, but he didn’t give much thought to the poor bastard stuck walking you home. Carrying you home, rather.”
Gareth bit his lip. “He did say it might impair some motor functions.”
“That’s an understatement. Hopefully we can get you home before it starts working.”
Silence fell between them while they waited for the nurse. Eventually, Gareth asked, “Where are you from? Your accent is northern, right?”
“Yes, I was born in Troas.”
Gareth nodded. That made sense. They neared the end of a bright summer, and Gareth’s skin had tanned beyond its usual pasty white. Still, Roman’s skin was several shades darker than Gareth’s could ever be, no matter how much sunslight he caught. Paired with his dark hair and accent, Gareth should have guessed Troas sooner.
“I’ve never been,” Gareth said.
The nurse arrived, then, replacing Gareth’s mostly-melted bag with a new one. When Gareth stood, the world tipped precariously forward, backward, and side-to-side, and he grabbed Roman’s shoulder for support. Funnily, the young man didn’t seem at all affected by the world’s shifting. He just gave Gareth a sidelong look and said, “Let’s go.”
Gareth was once again struck by how familiar Roman was. It wasn’t until they were out of the hospital and halfway across the street that he finally figured it out. “Wait!” he cried.
Roman twirled to face Gareth faster than Gareth had ever seen anyone move, his sword appearing in his hand between one second and the next. “What?”
“I know who you are!”
Roman’s gaze landed on Gareth, and Gareth nearly staggered under the weight of it. Had he been entirely in his right mind, it would have felled him. It would have terrified him. As it was, Gareth just giggled. The sword disappeared and Roman grabbed Gareth’s arm, dragging him the rest of the way across the street. Gareth hadn’t even realized he’d stopped walking.
“Atiuh’s name, Gareth,” Roman growled, “Don’t do that! I thought there was trouble.”
“It’s fine. Well?”
“You said you know me. Who do you think I am?”
“Oh. We’ve met, sort of,” Gareth said. He followed Roman’s lead when Roman turned onto a dark side street. The fact that Gareth didn’t even question it distantly worried him, but he was mostly focused on walking on ground that didn’t want to stay still. “I saw you at the play— the Rinehart one. The Egil story, with the Webhon Players. Do you remember?”
When Roman laughed, Gareth imagined he could see the tension leaving the young man’s body in tangible waves. “I’m there every day, Gareth, I don’t remember—,” Roman paused, then, and gave Gareth a strange look. “Wait, I do remember! You’re that old man I had a random staring contest with last week!”
Gareth pouted. “I’m not that old.”
Roman laughed again, the sound bright and youthful. Even though his mind’s haze, Gareth envied Roman. “No, you’re not. One of those encounters the memory exaggerates, I suppose. Must have been the bald head.”
When Gareth kept pouting, Roman said, “Gareth, you’re not old, I swear. Please, though, walk faster. The medicine is taking effect.”
Gareth blinked up at the purple sky as he walked. One foot in front of the other. Step, step, step. They turned onto Main Street just as a carriage rattled past, its side lanterns making Gareth squint and avert his eyes.
“Remarkably fast, this stuff. And strong. I hardly feel a thing,” Gareth said. Suddenly remembering the thread of their earlier conversation, he asked, “Are you one of the Webhon Players?”
Roman looked back at Gareth, trying and failing to hide his amusement. “I’m an honorary player, I suppose. I just do the opening.”
“I thought your opening was beautiful.”
“Hm. Maybe you should stop talking for a while, Gareth.”
“Okay.” Gareth had to rely on Roman more and more for balance as they walked. They hadn’t made it another block before he started complaining. “How far away are we? My boots are getting dirty.”
Roman glanced at Gareth’s shoes. “Gareth, those boots were doomed the minute you set foot in Greysdale.”
“Set foot. I get it.” Gareth laughed. “How long until home?”
“Kramer Street, right? It’s about a ten minute walk from here. At the rate we’re going, forty.”
Gareth groaned and kicked a loose stone. To his credit, Roman managed to keep a straight face, even after looking over and seeing Gareth’s rather undignified pout. He asked, “So where are you from, if not Gallontea?”
“Adriat. Just outside of it.”
“Do you visit Gallontea often?”
“Once a year.” Gareth shrugged, pausing to look in the window of a ladies’ hat shop. He gawked at how big some of them were. How did the ladies not fall over, with those on their heads? Roman stifled a laugh, and Gareth realized he’d said that out loud. “Sorry. What were you saying?”
“I was trying to figure out how someone like you ended up this far north of Main Street.”
“I was on my way back from a meeting.”
“A meeting?” Roman asked, watching Gareth out of the corner of his eye. Under different circumstances, Gareth might have noticed the sharp interest in the young man’s voice. “What kind of meeting?”
“I’m not supposed to say.”
“Of course; I understand.” Roman sighed. “I was just trying to keep some conversation going. It’s not like I have anyone to tell, of course,” he said, earnestness dripping from every word. “But if you want to keep our relationship strictly to the life-saving kind, that’s fine.”
Gareth worried at his lower lip.
Sensing weakness, Roman continued. “It’s Unity, right?”
“Yes,” Gareth admitted. Roman’s dark eyes made him itch, just beneath the skin, and soon the words were pouring out of him. “They’re sending a diplomatic team to Orean to negotiate the return of a hostage. I’ve been to Orean a few times, so they put me on the team.”
Roman’s eyes widened. “Diplomatic?” he said, tasting the word like he’d never heard it before. He stared at Gareth like he expected more; Gareth stared back. “Unity? You’re sure they said diplomatic?”
“Yes,” Gareth said. “I didjust sit through the whole bloody long meeting.”
Roman snorted. “Sorry, it just doesn’t seem like Unity’s style.”
“And how would you know?” Gareth asked, sounding for a moment very much like his father. Gareth hated himself for it, just a little.
Roman smiled and shrugged, and whatever sharpness Gareth had seen behind his eyes disappeared, like a sheathed knife— hidden, but no less dangerous. “I guess I wouldn’t.”
“There’s an invest— investigative part, too. Trying to figure out who took him and why.”
“Did you just meet the team for the first time tonight?” Roman asked, watching Gareth.
“Anyone stand out to you?”
“The Captain is very nice,” Gareth said, uncertain what Roman was asking.
“No, I mean…was there anyone suspicious on the team, Gareth? Anyone who shouldn’t have been there?”
Gareth frowned. Roman’s tone was urgent, suddenly, but Gareth couldn’t wrap his mind around the question. “I shouldn’t have been there, I think. I do so wish Moira hadn’t put me on the team,” Gareth said, trying to chase away the ghost of his father with friendly conversation. “I hate being away from Isobel and Ofelia.”
Roman sighed, then forced a smile onto his face. “They’re your family?”
“Yes. Isobel’s my wife and Ofelia’s my daughter. Isobel’s the most beautiful woman in the world. Hey! You should meet her, Roman! You should come up and meet her! Then you’ll see. She’s pregnant right now. I’m probably going to miss the birth of my second child.” Gareth stopped walking. “Oh, Atiuh. I hadn’t even realized that till just now.”
Roman wordlessly tugged Gareth on again. “I’m sorry, Gareth. I’m sure it’s no great comfort, but with someone of your wit on the team, you’ll succeed and make it back in no time at all. And Orean is beautiful in the fall.”
“Have you been?” Gareth asked.
“You should be on the team, then. Instead of me. You’re much charminger than I, and you know how to fight, and you’ve been to Orean.”
“Charminger, huh?” Roman asked.
“Yes. Would you go, if you could? Would you join the team? Hypo-hyperothetically.”
Roman once again stifled a smile. “No, I wouldn’t. Sorry.”
“Because I’d rather not work with Unity.”
“I don’t trust their motives, I don’t trust them to treat the orinians fairly, and I don’t want any part in that, even if they are doing it to rescue Amos.” Roman sighed. “I would have leapt at that sort of opportunity, once, when I was young. I did, in fact. I won’t make the same mistake again.”
“I don’t understand.” Gareth frowned. He didn’t think he’d mentioned King Nochdvor. He’d been careful not to, in fact.
Roman looked over at him. He seemed tired, suddenly, and much, much older. “I’ve been down similar roads before, you see. You always lose something of yourself on the journey, even if everything seems fine in the end. Who I am is all I have anymore, so no, I wouldn’t join the team. I’m happy enough where I am.”
Gareth blinked at Roman. The word enough seemed to weigh heavier than the others. “You talk older than you look,” Gareth observed, the most cogent thought he was capable of forming at the moment.
“I’m fairly sure that doesn’t make sense, Mr. Ranulf.”
Roman smiled and shook his head. “If you insist. Hey, do you recognize where we are?”
Gareth looked around. Past the slight blur, he recognized Kramer Street. “Oh!”
“Do you need me to help you to your room, or can you handle it from here?”
“I can handle it. Thank you, Mr. Hallisey. I said I’d pay you—,”
“Don’t worry about it. Just promise you’ll be more careful next time you wander around at night. And good luck with your trip.”
With that, Roman was gone, strolling down the street and out of Gareth’s life. Gareth stood outside his flat, letting the crisp air slowly peel back the medicine’s haze. He didn’t want to be so out of it when he explained what happened to Isobel, so he stood and watched the— few, given the late hour— people pass by on the street.
He was surprised to see the orinians from the restaurant earlier that day slip into the hotel next door. One of them, a girl with curly blonde hair, made eye contact with Gareth. At his stare, the girl’s smile fell, and she hurried after her friends.
“Kieran! Íde!” she called, catching up to them just as the hotel doors swung shut, blocking them from view.
Gareth worried at his his bottom lip, watching the doors long after the orinians disappeared. Unbidden, Roman’s earlier words came to mind. I don’t trust Unity to treat the orinians fairly. Gareth hoped Roman was wrong.
When Gareth’s clarity returned, pain along with it, Gareth went upstairs to where his family waited.
A/N: What are your thoughts on Roman so far? I’d love to know!