Legal Theft Flash Fiction: The Rules of Consumption (714 words)

A firm hand drew the decanter away from him. Brance watched it leave his hand with a dull focus, as if he were watching the air roll it away, as if those weren’t his fingers wrapped around the patterned glass. Then he just blinked at his fingers for a moment. When he finally realized how slow he was being, he snickered at himself.

Vardan pulled the decanter another six inches toward him across the table. With his hand over the open top, he looked down at Brance wordlessly.

Leaned all the way back in his padded chair, Brance carefully tilted his head back to look at him. “I don’t remember giving you a key,” he said, unoffended and still amused. Turning his head made the world spin delightfully. It was almost a puzzle, working out how to meet Vardan’s eye. And he was pleased with himself for solving it so efficiently.

“Your lock is easy to pick,” Vardan told him.

Brance nodded. He knew that. But he had a dog, and he trusted Kelb’s iron jaws more than he trusted iron tumblers.

He had to twist in his seat to find Kelb. The dog was curled up on the carpet beside and a little behind him, his triangular head settled on his front paws. He seemed to raise an eyebrow at Brance as he looked up at him without lifting his head, innocent. Kelb had known Vardan since he was a puppy. Apparently, that meant he didn’t see anything wrong with Vardan breaking in and stealing Brance’s wine.

There wasn’t anything wrong with Vardan breaking in. Brance could get more wine.

Unless Brance’s father sent Vardan with an objective.

Brance looked at Kelb a little longer. There was a small needling thought that he might need a better lock, after all. But he didn’t want one.

“Why are you here?” Brance asked. He had lost his smile somewhere, and the weight of seriousness felt sick under the haze of the alcohol. It sank in deep, and he was aware of himself again, of the connection of his fingers, and the heaviness of his skull, and the hard edges of the chair beneath him. He purposefully didn’t move, and painted his smile back over his lips.

“You’re drunk,” Vardan said.

“Well, you couldn’t have known that until you got here,” Brance said. He forced himself to grin up at the older man.

Vardan watched him, content in his silence again.

“Come on,” Brance murmured. “I’m following your rules.” He counted on his fingers, pulling them too far back, hands too heavy. “I’m not drinking in public. I’m not drinking with strangers. My door was locked, and I have nowhere I’m supposed to be tonight. You never told me I wasn’t supposed to drink.”

Vardan took a breath, that might have been a sigh when he let it back out, though it was silent enough to Brance’s ears.

“Give me three good reasons why I shouldn’t drink,” Brance told him. He watched Vardan’s shoulders shift, before he realized he’d delivered it with all the force of an order. He could almost hear the tone of it in memory, and he knew that Vardan heard the exact same tone a dozen times a day from someone else. He felt bad about it, but he was curious, watching the muscles in Vardan’s jaw work through the question, watching the older man’s eyes lift to find an answer on the wall.

“Three?” Vardan asked quietly, and it sounded absent, buying time for something more thoughtful.

“Well,” Brance said. “There’s one good reason for everything. It’s not that hard for someone with your intelligence to make up a second. Three… Three and I’d believe you actually thought that I was in the wrong.”

Vardan dropped his gaze to Brance’s again, held it for a long breath.

Then he turned to the sideboard and returned with two glass tumblers. When he put them down on the table, they almost didn’t make a sound. He slipped into the chair opposite Brance, and poured out two inches of deep red wine for himself. Then he pushed the decanter back toward Brance. It scratched against the tabletop.

“Use a cup,” he said.

Brance snorted. “All right,” he agreed. Then he filled his glass to the top.

I’m a thief! I stole the first line of this piece from my friend, over at Machete Diplomacy. Be sure to stop by her blog to see what’s being drunk over there. Then check out the entire ring of thieves.

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