Warlands of Song

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Chapter Twenty-Eight: Glen

“Another,” Glen said.

The bartender slid him another shot, which he downed and savored before requesting yet another. The man eyed him, but said nothing, obeying orders. He lifted the glass to his lips, but it was snatched away by another hand. He turned to yell at whomever has stolen from him, only to find a non-threatening face there.

“Oh. You. Give it back, I need it.”

Carter held it out of his reach and looked to the bartender.

“How many has he had?”

“Too many, sir. But I’ve heard bad things about denying him his drinks when he’s like this. That’s why I called.”

“Yeah, that was smart. I apologize in his behalf-”

“I don’t need anyone to apologize for me-”

“How much does he owe you?”

He scowled as Carter reached in his pocket and withdrew his money, handing it over the counter and downing the shot himself. He then found himself being jerked to his feet and led from the bar and out into the cold, where Carter shoved him ahead.

“Walk it out of your system,” he was commanded. “It takes so much to get you drunk, you must’ve been working at it tonight. Why?”

He wasn’t a dizzy drunk, but a numb, oblivious one. So he didn’t notice the pole until he ran straight into it, head-first. He stopped walking, forehead pressed into the ice-cold metal, until Carter took his shoulders and guided him around it, shoving him to get him moving again.

“I asked you a question.”

“I messed up. I didn’t mean to do what I did, but I couldn’t stop and she was being so stupid-”

“Who was being stupid?”

“Saige.”

“What did you do this time?”

Carter said “this time” as though he’d done so much to her to begin with. But hadn’t he? He’d originally saved her on earth, true, but what else had he done for her? She’d made a decision to join the service without thinking of him at all, and suddenly he’d turned into a parent. And a strict one at that. He couldn’t even parent his own daughter. How could he parent someone as complex as Saige?

“I destroyed the last shred of trust she had in me.”

A hand grabbed the back of his shirt, and he stopped again. Carter walked around him until they could look directly at one another.

“What did you do?”

He chuckled to himself. What had he done? What hadn’t he done? He’d threatened her physical wellbeing, her mental wellbeing, and her personality. He’d frightened her, broken what little heart she had left after her rough life, and made her truly believe to the bottom of her soul that there was no one in the world who cared about her except for herself.

“I almost drowned her. On purpose.”

“You did what? Is she okay? I knew I shouldn’t have left her alone with you-”

“She’s alive. Not in the best condition, but alive.”

“What were you even thinking?”

Glen stared at his hands, bemused by their trembling. That hadn’t happened since he was a child.

“I have to test her tomorrow.”

“And?”

“She’s doing well. Better than I ever expected her to do. It’s only been a few months, and she’s almost perfect at everything she does. The Chief has noticed. Everyone is noticing. So they want me to administer the final test tomorrow morning. The test that no one is supposed to know exists until year five. She’s been here six months.”

“But why? She’s not that good. She’s no you.”

“The counsel feels that her previous experiences on earth and general combat training here make her surpass the requirements for the test. They don’t care about her mental health. They don’t care that it’s too soon, and that it will most likely break her. All they care about is gaining their first soldier who can work both sides without problem and win them tons of battles before they turn into wars.”

Carter waited for more information, a deep frown on his face.

“But what does that have to do with you trying to drown her?”

He swallowed, dropping his hands.

“I lost control. I’ve been stressing over this test all month, and then she talked back to me in the pool and said she could take care of herself, and I realized that she was right. She can take care of herself. And it scared the crap out of me. Because she’s going to pass the test tomorrow, no matter what I throw at her, and no matter how much damage it does to her mind. And if she passes the test and that loving part of her mind breaks, she’s going to become another me. A pawn in their stupid game who thinks they’re special because they can kill anyone who gets in their way.”

“That’s not who you are-”

“And I did it because I wanted her to get scared. I wanted her to quit, and let me take her far away from here where that won’t ever happen to her. I can protect her. I’m already broken, so why does she have to be? She doesn’t!”

He ignored Carter when the man tried to calm him down.

“This is no place-No life-for someone like Saige. For someone who’s... who’s... good! Everything I am, she’s the opposite. And they want to strip her of that and make a super soldier. I have to stop it.”

His friend looked around before he dragged Glen all the way back to his room. Glen entered the code, and Carter shoved him inside, following close behind.

“Sit. And shut up until I ask you a question.”

Glen obeyed happily. He wanted his induced numbness to last as long as it could before his body burned it all off.

“I have watched you do stupid things for a long, long time,” Carter said. “I watched you get cocky when we were training together. You made it to head of the class in no time. You thought you were the best, because you were, but you let it make you stupid. Next thing I know you were running off to get married to a woman you barely knew. You had a kid. I knew you didn’t know what to do with a kid, but you thought you could handle it. Then you figure out you couldn’t.

“After you had your kid you finally stopped to think for the first time about who you were, what you were, and what example you were sending to her. Grow up, be strong, and kill people if it puts bread on the table. Some people can deal with that life, but you didn’t want to, but instead of facing it head on, what do you do? You divorce your wife, who you never really loved to begin with, and abandon your little girl to move to earth with your military partner. You act stupid!”

Glen’s numbness began to fade with Carter’s lecture. His mood went from bad to worse very quickly.

“You stay on earth for a few decades, to ‘clear your head,’ you say. I thought it was great. You could take some time off to think about your life and what you want to do, then come back for your daughter, who needs her dad in her life. But no! The next time I see you, you’ve done something stupid once again in bringing a Xinaan girl back from earth-goodness knows how she even got there-with you, thereby getting your partner killed. Heck, nearly getting yourself killed too! You acted irrationally and stupid.

“Then that girl joins the military and because of your stupidity, you agree to be her S.O. And again, instead of facing the problem head on-the problem being that you actually care about her, unlike what you want the Chief and counsel to think-you start treating her like crap. Leaving the training up to me. Fine, I thought, that just meant you would stay out of my way and let me do my job and you’d never have any unprofessional interactions with her again.”

Carter threw his hands in the air.

“But no! Of course not. Because nothing is ever that simple with you. Now you want to act like you’ve been torturing her because you’re worried about her and you care about her, and you want her to realize what a horrible mistake she’s making and run away with you to an island far, far away so you can live happily ever after. But wait, during all of this have you completely forgotten about your family and daughter who are waiting for your return? You’ve yet to even send them a card, you’ve been so wrapped up in Saige. Which now begs this particular question, to which I do expect an answer.”

Glen looked away when Carter assumed his “Commander” stance. He knew what was coming, and it wasn’t welcome.

“Are you in love with her?”

When he opened his mouth, Carter held up a hand.

“Take whatever lie you were about to tell, hold it, and think a little harder. If you lie, I’ll report you, but if you tell me the truth, I won’t. It’s simple, and I already know the answer.”

He dropped his head into his hands.

“I don’t want to,” he murmured into his fingers.

“You don’t want to what? Tell me the truth, or love her?”

“It’s wrong. I feel disgusting. She’s still so young, and has so much to learn and figure out. But I can’t help that whenever I see her, I can relax. Because she’s safe, and strong, and that’s all that matters. I wish I could turn it off and just be her teacher, but I can’t. And that makes me want to-”

“drown her,” Carter finished, deadpanned. “Because that’s totally healthy love.”

He winced.

“In a way-”

“No. That was wrong. And now she thinks everyone is out to kill her. Thanks. Just after I get her to talk to some new people, too...”

Carter mumbled the last sentence under his breath. Glen rubbed his face.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“About what? You’ve screwed a lot up over your lifetime.”

“About Saige.”

Carter stared at him.

“No, you don’t need to figure out what you’re going to do about Saige. You already know what you’re going to do. What you need to figure out, is what you’re going to do about yourself. Because you have issues than run a lot deeper than a forbidden crush or feeling like an unfit parent. You run from your problems, and you need to stop. Go see your daughter, indulge or destroy the feelings you have for Saige, and fix your problem solving skills. Because they need work.”

Glen couldn’t look Carter in he face. So he didn’t. He just nodded, silent.

“Say that you love her.”

He still didn’t speak.

“If you don’t say it, and if you let all of this anger and confusion and denial continue, you’re just going to hurt her again. She’s already scared of you. Angry at you. Now you need to work your way back to gaining her trust. But you can’t do that until you admit that you love her.”

“I already did.”

“No you didn’t. I asked if you did, and you only said you didn’t want to. That isn’t saying those three words. Come on. Out with it.”

He wiped his hands on his legs, trying to still his trembling. Why did thinking about saying what was going on make him revert back to his childhood? All of his insecurities and anxieties were floating right back to the surface. If this kept up, he would lose all intimidation factors in front of his soldiers. It was unacceptable. But Carter wasn’t letting this go.

He opened his mouth, but shut it just as fast. He tried again, with the same result. It would not come out. It simply wouldn’t.

“I can’t,” he said.

“Glen-”

“I just can’t right now.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“Tough. You’ll have to report me. I deserve it anyway. Should’ve been dead a long time ago.”

“I’m not going to report you. But you’re going to think about this. Either you’ll tell me, or you’ll tell her. But you won’t hurt her anymore.”

“I have to. Tomorrow. Today, actually.”

“I mean you won’t hurt her besides that. You’re going to turn this around, one way or another. Even if it means giving up your position as her S.O and passing it on to me.”

He nodded. “Fine.”

Carter sat beside him and pushed his shoulder.

“You’re more work than a kid, you know that? If this is what it’s like to be a parent, I don’t want it.”

He laughed, under his breath.

“Sometimes Elizabeth would send me father’s day gifts, and I would just sit in my room and turn out all the lights so I could be depressed in peace. I haven’t done anything to deserve her love and admiration, but she gives it freely.”

“Then fix it. All of it.”

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