0017 – Gareth: Love, Part 4

Pam smiled weakly when she saw it was Gareth who had opened the door. For the first time, she looked her age, withered and dazed and fading. It hurt him to see her like that, but just for a second, before the guilt took over and he remembered that he had no right to feel hurt.


“Hello, darling.” She greeted him. Her eyes showed no sadness. She was honestly glad he was here, and it only made him feel even more disgusted with himself.


He took her hand, very gently, careful not to bend her wrist beyond the limit of what her cast would comfortably allow.


“I love you.” It was the first thing he said. He’d really needed to.


“I love you too!” She answered back, without hesitation. She made a stilted movement with the hand he was holding, doing her best to beckon him closer. When he leant over her, she kissed him on the lips. “I missed you.” She told him.


Gareth allowed himself a smile. If he didn’t at least act naturally around her, she’d only worry, he told himself. Truthfully, he was glad of any excuse to forget his crime.


“I missed you too. They said they’re discharging you tomorrow.”


She nodded, her head back against the pillow. “One more night. They have to be doubly sure before they let old crones like me out of here.” She gave him a wink.


He noticed that her long hair was pinned under her. Nodding her head must have been painful, he thought. He leaned forward, loosening her hair a little, supporting it at the root end with his fingers so that his tugging was focused only on the trapped strands.


“Stop fussing!” She admonished him. “I’ll be fine.”


“You were unconscious for nearly three days,” he reminded her. “I’m allowed to fuss. I’m your hubby.”


“Not according to these idiots, you’re not.” She rolled her eyes. “Can you believe they were worried about discharging me to you? I gave them a piece of my mind.”


He laughed, giving her a gentle hug through the bedsheets as best he could. “I’m sure you did. It’ll be good to have you home.”


She nodded. “You’ve started a new job, though, haven’t you? Is it longer hours?” She held up both arms, weakly, showing off her dual casts. “Because I might need some help doing… certain things.”


Gareth was absolutely determined not to let his face show anything. The last thing he wanted, for now, was her to know that he wasn’t even being paid for what he was doing. He hid behind his amusement, latching onto her comment’s potential for childish scatological humour.


“Don’t worry. You know I’d do anything for you. I’ll get you some plastic bags and wet wipes, you’ll be right as rain.”


Pam looked up at the corner of the room, making a show of her curious expression as she tried to envisage the solution he had in mind. Eventually, she winced, and he laughed, pinching her cheek affectionately.


She sighed, and stared out of the window at the blue sky beyond. “I tripped, Gary. I must be getting old. Really old. I don’t want to be a doddery old woman.”


“You’re not.” He was able to reassure her authoritatively, knowing – even though he couldn’t admit how – that it hadn’t been her fault. “It’s just one of those things. It could have happened to anyone.”


This was absolutely untrue. It had happened to her. And for no other reason than because she was so important to him. Karl had picked the one thing he loved most in the world, and used it as a test for him. He felt pathetic.


——————————–


Karl didn’t look up as Gareth shut the door. “You’re late.” He said flatly.


Gareth wasn’t late, and he knew it. He had to keep his eyes on the prize. He needed Karl’s tutelage at all costs, and under normal circumstances, this might have been enough to persuade him to play along with Karl’s power game. Right now, though, he was feeling fired up.


“Why did you do it?” He stared at the back of Karl’s head, striving for eye contact.


“I didn’t, Gareth.” Karl spoke slowly, deliberately, as always. “You did it.”


Gareth took a step closer. Adrenaline was flowing. The signals in his mind calling for caution were getting a little easier to ignore.


“You know what I mean. Why Pam? Why did you have me hurt her?”


Karl finally turned around in the chair, looking up into Gareth’s eyes. He didn’t bother with standing. The fact that Gareth stood above him didn’t bother him. Something in his expression said that he knew who was really above who.


After a while, Karl answered. “Would any reason make you feel better? If I peddled out some ascetic sounding nonsense about needing to be willing to sacrifice the thing you love the most to pursue the Craft, would that ease your mind?”


“No.” Gareth answered honestly. Despite his anger and conviction, the question had disarmed him.


“And if I said I only asked you to do it because I found it funny, would that make you angrier?”


“Of course it would.”


“So nothing I say is going to placate you, and any answer I give is only likely to make you angrier.”


Gareth was silent.


“Why should I bother answering at all, then?” Karl asked him. The question was rhetorical. He turned back to his book.


“Just tell me this.” Gareth had been halted in his tracks, but he was still feeling wronged. “Did you have a good reason?”


“Oh, yes.” Karl was faking a distracted tone. They both knew he was paying attention. “I had an excellent reason. Just like you had an excellent reason for giving up the job that supported you, and coming here to be a useless apprentice to a man many years your junior.”


There has to be more to him, thought Gareth. Surely he’s not just a bad man.

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