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Shopping Trip

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Welcome to another hour of ad-free music on 96.5 The Groove: radio that won’t let you down! Next up we’ve got The Seekers, with Georgy Girl!

“Mr Hands, do we have to listen to the radio?” said Louis quietly.

“It’s that or one of Mr Teach’s CDs, and I don’t much fancy a headache before we’ve even gotten to the store.”

“CDs? What year is it?” said Alma.

Roach chuckled from the passenger seat.

“You would not like my car in this case, it only plays tapes.”

“You know what a tape is?” said Izzy, “it’s this little plastic thing with a - it’s actually more of a cassette, and there’s tape inside-

“Yeah, I know what a fucking tape is.”

Izzy didn’t have to look behind him to know that Alma was rolling their eyes at him. 

“Fighting words from someone who’s never set foot inside a grocery store,” he said, raising an eyebrow at them in the rear view mirror.

“I’m blaming both of my parents for that. I think having too much money rots your brain.”

“They got that line from you,” said Roach, “congratulations, Izzy.”

It was true - neither Bonnet child had ever been shopping for groceries before. As it turned out, Mary preferred having things delivered, and once Stede had moved out, the task of shopping had fallen to his new staff. 

Namely, Roach.

But Roach’s shoulder was acting up, and even now in the passenger seat, Izzy could see the tightness around his eyes that betrayed the pain he was in. Realistically, he could have just written Izzy a list, and he would have been to the market and back within the hour. But of course, Roach was a stubborn bastard, and Alma wasn't much better when they got an idea into their head. 

Izzy would have loved to complain at them about it. But unfortunately, stubbornness seemed to the one of the few things all three of them had in common.

*

Roach had been snippy and irritable that morning when Izzy had arrived, delivering Edward to Stede’s place so that the two of them could go on another one of their weird fucking outings. He’d been clearing up after breakfast, grumbling in one long tirade about the fact that he was supposed to go shopping and then have half the day off, except that neither of the Bonnet kids had particularly wanted to go along on what was clearly more of a date than it was a family outing, which meant they’d still be at home - not that he blamed them - and would, of course, need to be fed. 

Izzy didn’t remember the exact wording, because he’d been focusing more on the way Roach had been kneading at his shoulder, hissing sharply as his fingers squeezed a particularly sore spot.

Alma had found them not long afterwards, mid-chase as Izzy followed an increasingly stressed out Roach around the kitchen while Roach muttered about his meal plans being thrown out of whack, opening cupboards and then slamming them immediately when he found that nothing of use had materialised since last time he checked. 

Their appearance, thankfully, always tended to override any panic Roach happened to be feeling.

“Dad says you’re going to the market?” they said, lingering in the doorway. 

“I’m going to the market,” said Izzy, glaring at Roach.

“I believe you will find that I am going to the market,” said Roach, “since this is not even his job.”

Alma looked from Roach to Izzy, then rolled their eyes.

“Why don’t you both go? Then you can take me as well. I’m great at carrying things. And you said I need to learn to be less useless than my dad.”

Izzy narrowed his eyes at them.

“And your brother?”

Alma scowled in response.

Izzy -” 

Alma-

“Yes yes, we will all go,” said Roach, “come on, tell your brother to put some shoes on. I want to go for a ride in that fancy car of yours.”

Alma had the good sense to recognise that this was the best offer they were going to get, so they raced back upstairs to tell Louis the good news.

“You agreed to that one fast,” said Izzy, raising an eyebrow at Roach.

“When you two bicker you go for hours,” sighed Roach, “this was, I believe, the easiest solution.”

*

The markets were relatively quiet when they pulled into the parking lot. Izzy inwardly breathed a sigh of relief - he was seldom in the mood for crowds, and from what he had learned about Roach so far, he suspected that the other man felt similarly. 

He bumped Roach out of the way of trying to grab a trolley, shaking his head at the annoyed huff that this produced. 

“Think carefully about this decision,” said Roach, “you are taking on a big responsibility.”

“I think I know how to push a shopping trolley around,” said Izzy.

“Ah,” said Roach, wiggling his eyebrows, “but this is a special occasion for Alma and Louis. They have not yet discovered the wonders that come with the shopping trolley.”

Izzy gave him a flat stare.

“We are not putting the Bonnet children in the trolley,” he said, then watched in tired resignation as Alma climbed in and helped Louis up behind them.

“You’re taking up all the fuckin’ space,” Izzy groaned, “you’re too old for this shit.”

“Mister Hands, we have grown up deprived,” said Alma, putting a hand to their brow in a dramatic show of melancholy.

“Trolley driving is a big responsibility,” shrugged Roach, “I told you.”

Izzy weighed up his options. He was sorely tempted to just leave the other three here and drive home. But Alma and Louis were currently staring at him, wide-eyed and expectant, and he settled for grumbling under his breath as he pushed the trolley into the marketplace, and the Bonnet children with it.

*

Izzy quickly discovered that Roach was not a huge fan of shopping in anything that vaguely resembled an orderly fashion. He blew through the markets, flitting from stall to stall and digging out fruits and vegetables like he was searching for treasure. From time to time he would pass something to the Bonnet children - an apple, with instructions to flick it with their fingernails. A melon, with instructions to slap it like a drum. He grabbed three oranges in one hand and proceeded to juggle them with a huge grin on his face, until the stallholder let fly a string of angry-sounding arabic.

Izzy carefully concealed a smile when he realised that he recognised some of the words from when Roach was particularly tired and irritable in the kitchen.

“Ana assef!” said Roach - Izzy recognised the phrase that meant sorry - and then he said something else while he dropped the oranges into the bowl on the shop’s scales.

The stall owner continued to glare at him while he responded. The inflection of his voice sounded like he was continuing to berate Roach, who put his hands up in surrender and shook his head. His eyes were wide with mock fear. The shopkeeper yelled something at Roach, shoving a finger in his face.

“Hey, he was just messing around,” said Izzy, stepping in, “no need to be a prick about it.”

The shopkeeper rounded on Izzy.

“Prick? He calls me prick?”

Roach said something else in Arabic, and the shopkeeper held his gaze for several moments, before roaring with laughter.

“Ah, this is the one you are telling me about,” he said, winking at Izzy, “you are a good man to Sasa.”

“W-what? Roach, what - what the fuck is this guy talking about?” stammered Izzy. 

“Fazal thinks he is very funny, scaring you all like that,” said Roach with a sigh, though he clasped Fazal’s shoulder fondly, “we have more things to buy, my friend, I will see you soon.”

“Hey, you wait,” said, Fazal, holding up one finger. 

He disappeared into the back of the shop, then came back a few moments later with a handful of walnuts, which he passed to Alma and Louis.

“You must, ah, break,” he said, miming cracking the shells open, “or else, bad for your teeth.”

“Thank you, that’s - that’s very kind of you,” said Alma, looking down at the hard shells they were holding in their hands. 

“Look after your father, Sasa tells me he spends too much time worrying about the others.”

Fazal ruffled both children’s hair, then wandered back into his shop.

Alma spluttered with laughter, looking up at Izzy.

“Did he think we’re your kids?”

“Yeah, I’m just as fuckin’ horrified at the thought as you are,” grumbled Izzy, though his cheeks were now tinged with pink, and he didn’t seem to quite be able to meet their eyes.

Roach didn’t say anything more about the matter, though he did wind his arm around Izzy’s waist as they continued on, resting his hand on the smaller man’s hip as they walked.

They wound their way around the fresh produce area for a while longer while Alma and Louis cracked open the walnuts. They weren't particularly good at it, but they seemed to enjoy the challenge of easing the nuts out of their shells. They passed a few pieces to Roach and Izzy as well, and Izzy made a quiet sound of surprise at the sweet, vanilla taste that spread over his tongue.

While they walked, Roach continued checking off the extensive shopping list he seemed to keep in his head, picking out some mangoes for Alma, some artichokes for Louis, who enjoyed peeling off the leaves one by one and chewing on them. 

Roach caught Izzy staring at a punnet of tiny cucumbers and put that in the trolley too, despite his protests.

“It’s Stede’s money,” shrugged Roach.

“Yeah, how much a cucumber cost, anyway? Ten dollars?” said Alma.

They blinked innocently at Roach and Izzy, who stared at them openmouthed. Then their face broke into an impish smile.

“Gotcha,” they said.

“Listen, the way Bonnet talks about this shit, I’d believe it,” muttered Izzy.

*

Izzy and Louis both took one step into the seafood and butcher’s area, wrinkled their noses, then turned tail and left immediately. The two of them had gone to the bakery section, only after Izzy had repeated Roach’s list back to him three times in a row.

Alma, on the other hand, walked along quite happily with Roach as the two of them examined the slabs of beat and half-carcasses and bones with fascination.

“Do the different parts of the cow taste different, then?” said Alma, staring at a rack of ribs.

“Very different. Different muscles do different things, so they are all built a little differently. So they taste different too.”

“Where’s the best meat?”

“A lot of people like the tenderloin.”

Roach twisted, and pointed at his spine, drawing a line from just under his ribs, downward. Butchery was of particular interest to him, and out of some morbid curiosity, he had often wondered how it translated across different species. Including humans. He was mostly pleased that Alma seemed to share a similar fascination.

“It does not do a lot of work, so it is quite tender.”

“Like the name.”

“Yes, very much like the name.”

“Could you eat a human tenderloin?”

Roach nodded thoughtfully, then pointed out where a few of them sat, red and glistening under the glass.

“They would be smaller than these,” said Roach, “but yes, most cuts you could find on a human as well. Arms and legs would be tough meat, but you could slow cook them. Make stews. The back meat would be good. Shoulders too, I think.”

“Well, if we’re ever stuck on a desert island, I guess you’re the guy to have around.”

A small cough to their left made the two of them look up, and a tall old lady was staring straight ahead while she waited for the butcher, looking faintly nauseated. Roach put a hand on Alma’s shoulder and smiled.

“Meat’s meat,” he said with a shrug.

Roach took his packages of wrapped meat, paid the butcher, and gave the old lady a polite nod as he ushered Alma away. The two of them burst into giggles the moment they rounded the corner.

In the back area of the butchery, there were more unusual meats - game and mutton and-

“I used to keep goats,” said Roach, examining the pieces in the storefront of the halal butcher.

“Where you grew up?” 

Roach nodded.

“I raised a few from lambhood. They used to follow me around - I would sing them songs, and they would sing back to me.”

He made a quiet bleating sound to demonstrate, and his eyes creased at the corners at the memory.

“Did you eat them after?” 

The question took Roach by surprise, and he spluttered out a laugh.

“Not mine. The ones I raised at home gave us milk.”

“And where is home?”

Roach swallowed, studying the carcasses in the cabinet.

“Would you like to use another of your guesses?”

Roach tried his best to fix a smile onto his face to accompany the comment, but he suddenly found that he felt very tired. It was cold in here, among the refrigerated displays and meat freezers. The place was bright with fluorescent lights that flickered and were beginning to sting his eyes. For a moment, he thought fondly of dry heat and golden sunlight. He felt sick with longing for it, like he did whenever he slipped and allowed himself to reminisce.

“If I don’t guess eventually, will you tell me? One day?” 

Alma was looking up at him, their expression piercing. They were a lot like him, he realised - always watching, evaluating their next move. He wondered what they’d gleaned from his momentary slip.

“One day,” he promised, hoping they wouldn’t notice the sudden hoarseness in his voice and knowing full well it was a futile hope.

Alma nodded.

“I’d like that. I’d like to visit one day.”

Roach couldn’t look at them. He reached out a hand tentatively and placed it on their head instead - a promise. Of course he would tell them one day. When he could untangle the grief from his lips and stop it from spilling out whenever he spoke of home. 

He would tell them then.

*

“Alright, Roach said to pick up flatbread crackers from this specific store-”

Izzy didn’t miss the little dimple that formed between Louis’ brows.

“Did I get that wrong?”

Louis shook his head.

“Something else is wrong?”

Louis hesitated, then shook his head.

“Are you lying to me?”

Izzy tried to speak as gently as he could manage. Louis was a lot more timid than his sibling, and it was no secret that he was a little intimidated by the strange man who often got into shouting matches with… a solid portion of the household staff, and his family.

Nevertheless, Louis managed to muster enough courage to give a tiny nod of his head. He sank back, trying to bury himself in the pile of groceries he was surrounded by.

“What is it? Let’s see if we can do something about it.”

“I hate those stupid gourmet crackers,” whispered Louis.

“Oh.”

“I think Dad hates them too. He just wants them because they’re fancy.”

Izzy pondered this for a moment, holding the packet of crackers in his hand. They were all different flakes of baked flatbread, warped from the oven, cut into rough wedge shapes. 

“What crackers do you like?” he said.

“Round ones. I like them because they all look the same.”

“Ah.”

“You gonna eat that, Hands? Looks fuckin’ rank.”

“S’fine. Same shit as every other day.” 

“You like it?”

“I like knowing what to expect. Now take your eyes off my fuckin’ bread or I’ll fuckin’ gut you.”

Izzy plucked a cheaper box of water crackers off the shelf. They looked plainer, all of them arranged in a cylinder of circles that were all the same size. Plain. Predictable.

“I’m sure a different cracker won’t completely ruin your dad’s day. He can yell at me about it if it makes him mad.”

Louis held the box of crackers in his hands, staring at them with a kind of quiet awe. He did not put them down.

*

Seeing whole fishes laid out on ice seemed to fascinate Alma too. They lingered in front of the glass, staring at the piles of mackerel, entranced by the colour of the red snapper. They knelt so that they were eye level with a tray of salmon heads with their big round bug eyes.

“Those are the best part,” said Roach.

Alma wrinkled their nose.

“You eat them?”

“The cheeks,” said Roach, “the meat near the gills. It is quite delicious, actually.”

“You know… Dad would flip his lid if you gave him a plate full of fish heads.”

Roach looked down at the hopeful expression on Alma’s face.

“Absolutely not,” he said, tucking the thought away for another time, “now come on, we need to find your brother.

*

The parking lot was half empty by the time they made it back out to the car. Izzy pointedly nudged Roach out of the way while he loaded all the bags into the car boot.

“You forgot one,” said Roach, pointing at Louis, who giggled.

“C’mon,” said Izzy, ignoring him, “let’s get this trolley back. Out you get.”

“We are going to let them out of the trolley without even indulging in one of the most important trolley traditions of all time?” said Roach, laying a hand on Izzy’s wrist as he frowned in mock seriousness.

“And what exactly might that be?” said Izzy flatly.

Roach leaned in close, his lips brushing the shell of Izzy’s ear as he whispered something.

“What? What are you doing?” demanded Alma.

“No,” said Izzy.

“Then I shall simply have to take over,” said Roach airily, giving his hair a little toss before cracking his knuckles.

“Don’t be an idiot,” hissed Izzy, “your shoulder-”

“I will use my good arm if it worries you so, Mr Hands,” said Roach. 

He pushed the trolley out into the emptiest section of the parking lot, leaned his weight back, then began to pull the trolley in a slow circle. It very quickly became apparent that this was a two-handed job, because the children looked on in confusion as they turned.

“Mister Roach?” said Alma, “Mister Roach, it’s alright - we should probably get going-”

Roach stopped, a little crestfallen. Izzy threw his hands up in the air and heaved a long-suffering sigh.

“Alright, out of the way,” he grumbled, “come on.”

He gripped the trolled tightly with both hands, then pulled the trolley firmly to the side, sending both children tumbling over each other.

“Wait!” shouted Alma, but Izzy had already built his momentum. He wrenched the trolley sideways, spinning it a circle faster and faster as the wheels rattled on the asphalt and Alma and Louis screamed. He whirled with them around and around, his hair whipping into his face while Roach looked on and and cackled with laughter. 

Then, abruptly, he brought the trolley to a stop and smirked as Louis and Alma rolled, smacking lightly into the side of the trolley.

“Hey!” shouted Alma, breathless with laughter, as they got to their feet.

“What was that?” said Izzy.

He jerked the trolley forwards, sending them toppling over Louis with a shriek as he pushed them in the direction of the trolley bay. 

“Alright freeloaders, out you get!” he called, “we’re going home!”

*

The trip back home was quieter than they’d expected. 

Izzy kept the radio to a low hum, and Alma stared out the window while Louis slowly nodded off. 

Izzy couldn’t help it - he kept sneaking glances at the back seat in the rear view mirror. He felt something in his chest clench at the sight of Louis with his eyes closed, swaying in time with the bumps and movements of the car. Izzy couldn't remember the last time he’d slept that deeply, that free of care. Probably when he'd been a child, too.

The times he’d stayed over at the Bonnet household, they’d discovered that he and Roach both tended to wake at random, terrified of the spectre of a threat. Neither of them had mentioned why, but they’d seen each other’s scars by now - the thick, ropy line across Roach’s shoulder and the spiders-web of thin, raised lines on his back. The strange pockmarks where hair didn’t grow on Izzy’s chest, the neat slashes across his side. They’d never used words, but they knew nevertheless.

But little Louis in the backseat, dark lashes against a pale round face, was yet unmarred by the world. Izzy knew he’d be damned if he let anything happen to the boy on his watch. Him or Alma, who’d already had far too much practice at building their walls for someone so young.

When they pulled in to the Bonnet mansion, Izzy gently unbuckled Louis, then scooped him up into his arms. He felt him tense for a moment, then take a concentrated effort to relax his small limbs, falling forwards into Izzy’s shoulder in his best attempt at pretending to be asleep. 

Izzy held him close, biting the inside of his cheek hard to keep down the lump that threatened to rise in his throat and spill out into that prickling feeling behind his eyes.

On the other side of the car, Roach bent down so that Alma could climb onto his back.

“Where to, my liege?” said Roach.

“Onwards to the royal chambers,” said Alma, “I wish to take a royal nap.”

“One royal nap for the royal pain in the ass,” whispered Izzy, adjusting Louis in his arms, “come on love, let’s go in.”

The endearment slipped out as easily as any other word had ever come to him, but he didn’t miss the small smile on Roach’s face when he heard it.

*

Stede was getting changed upstairs, so Edward had taken it upon himself to raid the pantry for some snacks before Roach got home. There were slim pickings, but he helped himself to a boxful of slightly stale crackers, and a half full pot of homemade dip.

He was taking these and a bottle of wine upstairs when he ran into Roach and Izzy in the hallway, both of them holding a child each. 

Izzy had Louis in his arms as he came over to whisper.

“Need me to take care of anything, Edward?”

“Not now, Iz,” Edward whispered back, “looks like you’ve got your hands full.”

Izzy nodded once, a slight incline of his head in lieu of a bow - ever the dutiful butler.

Edward watched as he headed down the corridor to put Louis to bed.

Izzy's voice was... soft. His whole demeanour seemed to have softened - he was in his shirtsleeves, his hair windblown and tousled. In spite of the weight of the child in his arms, he looked… lighter. Less bowed from the pressure of tension and worry. There was even the suggestion of a smile in the lines around his eyes.

Edward decided that it suited him.

*

*

Later that evening, after the groceries had been sorted and put away, Roach groaned as he lowered himself onto his bed and grit his teeth as he tried to pull his shirt over his head with one arm. His shoulder was radiating white hot pain up his neck and into his skull now, and he was unable to bite back the quiet whimper of distress as he attempted to bend his arm to get the shirt off. He ended up his the shirt rucked up half over one arm while he squeezed his eyes shut, breathing through the pain.

"Here," said Izzy's voice, quiet and gentle.

Izzy helped him ease the shirt over his head without having to move his arm too much. A couple of pills were pressed into his hand, and when Roach cracked one eye open he found a glass of water being held in his face.

Roach ducked his head wearily, wishing his body would just let him enjoy the final dregs of the day instead of punishing him with more reminders of the stupidity of his youth.

While he took the pills, Izzy grabbed the tin of balm from where it sat on his bedside table, and scooped a little out onto his fingers.

“You do not have to do this,” said Roach, “I can manage-”

“‘Course you can,” said Izzy, “you’ve always managed. Doesn’t mean you have to-”

Roach hissed as the cold balm hit his skin, then grunted as Izzy began working his fingers into the knotted muscles around his scar.

“How bad is it?” said Izzy quietly, “you’ve gone all - all ashy.”

Roach made a quiet sound of distress in the back of his throat.

“Hurts,” he whispered finally.

Izzy squeezed at the base of his neck, running his fingers up either size of his spine and then digging them into his scalp. Roach felt himself relax into the touch as some of the tension he hadn’t even realised he was holding began to drain away.

“You push yourself too hard,” murmured Izzy, continuing to knead at his shoulder.

“Eh, what is it you people say? The pot and the kettle.”

Izzy dropped a kiss to the back of his neck, winding his arms around Roach's waist and holding him close.

“Alma calls you Izzy now,” said Roach. 

His eyes were beginning to slide shut. Now that there was a little relief, he realised that the constant underlying pain from the day had exhausted him.

“S’my name,” said Izzy.

“You know that this is not what I mean.”

Izzy huffed out a breath, and his fingers tightened against Roach’s skin.

“Scares the shit out of me,” he said finally, “children get hurt - fuckin’ drop of a hat, they get hurt. Don’t wanna fuck ‘em up.”

“Mmm, I think perhaps you should give them a little more credit.”

"I don't know. I don't know what to do. They're not even my fuckin' kids."

"Does it matter? I was raised by at least five different uncles and aunties. It is not so unusual."

"I'm not a dad-"

"You think too rigidly about these things, little man."

Izzy considered this as he soothed his hand over Roach's shoulder. The muscles there were starting to relax, and he ran his thumb over the gnarled ridge of the scar.

"I barely have any nerves left in the skin there," murmured Roach, "come and kiss me on my lips where I can still feel it."